St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-29-2019

St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-29-2019
Complacent or Complicit
Isaiah 63:7-9, Psalm 148, Hebrews 2:10-18, Matthew 2:13-23

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

It’s so easy for us, as Christians, to portray Herod as pure evil. Just hearing the story of the “Massacre of the Innocents” (as we now call it) is enough to convict him of being one of the most horrible rulers of all time.
But the Herod we’re talking about today (there are a number of them) is commonly identified from the others by the title “Herod the Great”.
This Herod wasn’t a crazed madman who gained and maintained his power only by cruel, brute force. There was some of that, but he also had a knack for navigating complicated political affairs; he was a persuasive speaker, a great negotiator; and he was calculating; always planning ahead, anticipating and maneuvering around obstacles that got in the way his goals.
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment, the one that helped him remain in power under Rome with the blessing of the local people, is that he managed to unite the elite under his leadership into accepting Roman rule and seeing it as a benefit to them and their society.
With those abilities he accomplished much that benefited not only Rome, but the prosperity of Judea as well. He built an entirely new city named Sebaste on an old site previously known as Samaria, built a new port city named Caesarea, and some smaller towns as well. He erected several fortress palaces in the Jordan Valley, and he expanded and remodeled the Jerusalem Temple, gaining some favor of the Jews.
These are just a sampling of Herod’s many successes that earned him the title “The Great”, that conveys the idea that he was seen by many to be a savior in own right.
Unfortunately, however, it was only the elite who benefited for the most part; all that success still left the lowly low, making the gap between the haves and the have nots even greater than it was before.
And, more unfortunate, if he had to dispose of someone who might interfere with his success, well… it could be excused as being good for the majority. Even his wife Mariamne (ma REE amnay), whom he loved dearly, wasn’t exempt from his doing what needed to be done in order to keep the ball rolling. And a few, or a few hundred, babies to Herod were nothing but the sacrifice of a few for the good of all.
Now… tell me this, does any of this, or perhaps all of it sound like anything we experience today in our own nation and around the world?

Herod is a part of the story of the birth of Christ. But his command to kill the children in and around Bethlehem is only a part of his story; the rest is found beyond the narrative as told to us by Matthew.
In the telling, we can easily see the tension of Herod against Jesus. And in that we can see the tension between earthly power and God. But we have to look closer to get the whole picture; and our hint to this is found in just a few words in the middle of verse 16 that read “…he sent and killed all the children…”
You see, Herod didn’t draw the sword himself and take the lives of innocent children, he ordered his soldiers to do the dastardly deed and they carried out the order, which shows that other human beings were complicit it the horrible act.
Add to that the sound of “…wailing and loud lamentation…” that conveys the idea that this wasn’t done quietly; that all the area, and soon the whole nation, would know what was going on and we see even more complicity as other authorities, such as those in the Temple and Rome herself, say nothing and do nothing; leaving Herod unscathed and still in power.
Perhaps now we can see even more clearly, and with greater contrast, the tension in the story as not only Herod’s evil against Christ’s divinity; but also drawing into the mix those who act along with the evil and those who remain inactive while witnessing evil.
Tell me again, does any of this, or perhaps all of it sound like anything we experience today in our own nation and around the world?

It’s not easy; in fact it’s downright hard. But as Christians we are called to look, not only at the evil in the world around us, but at our place within that evil and to do so with a critical eye. We must realize that we cannot call ourselves followers of Christ while watching evil from a distance; not sounding the alarm, not actively standing against it. We must look at our actions and our inactions and be aware of how they enable evil to infiltrate our governments, our society, and even our own souls under the guise of greater good, or as inconsequential to our personal salvation.
Evil does not flourish alone, it needs accomplices; and those who enable evil with their silence are also contributors. Evil doesn’t win when righteousness stands in its way. It only wins when righteousness steps aside to let it pass.
Wail, lament loudly, weep publically; do whatever it takes to call attention to and resistance of the evil that is all around us and in that way guard your soul from its pervasiveness good for all.

Isaiah 63:7-9
63:7 I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
63:8 For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely”; and he became their savior
63:9 in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Hebrews 2:10-18
2:10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
2:11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,
2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
2:13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”
2:14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
2:15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.
2:16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.
2:17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.
2:18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Matthew 2:13-23
2:13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
2:14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,
2:15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
2:16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
2:17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
2:18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
2:19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,
2:20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”
2:21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.
2:23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”