Pastor James Hopkins wrote this sermon for the second Sunday of Christmas, 1/2/2022. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11:00am, and is now available as a recording on the FLC Facebook live page. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Christmas2 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Second Sunday of Christmas, click here.
When God spoke to Jacob in a dream and told him to take his family to Egypt, it wasn’t exactly out of nowhere. This event took place most of the way through the story of Joseph, his son.
You’ll remember that he was despised by his brothers, thrown in a pit, and sold into bondage.
But God blessed Joseph and did not forsake him. He raised Joseph to a place of authority and honor in Pharaoh’s court. And he made Joseph a man after his own heart: slow to anger, merciful, and abounding in steadfast love.
Joseph did not punish his brothers for the wickedness they did to him. Rather, he forgave them. And through his brother, Judah, through his offspring would come the Messiah. Long story short: what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil, God meant for good.
And then God did it again. He spoke to a very different Joseph in a very similar dream. He told Joseph to take the baby Jesus and His mother, Mary, and go to Egypt. All this he did without a moment to waste, since Matthew tells us it was still night when the Holy Family grabbed their stuff and headed off.
Then the grim account you just heard:
Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. verse 16
Herod was not a wise or loving ruler of God’s people; but neither was he purely sadistic. If it had not been for Jesus, the baby boys of Bethlehem would have lived. Herod would have had no reason to snuff them out, because the true King of Israel would not be among them.
But what Herod meant for evil, God used for good. The Holy Innocents of Bethlehem did not grow up, but the One Holy Innocent of Bethlehem did. He was called out of Egypt. He lived in total innocence under the Law, keeping it perfectly; something even those children, like all children, would have been unable to do.
Joseph’s death and resurrection were figurative. It could not redeem us; but it pointed us to Christ’s own innocent suffering and death.
As Joseph was dropped into the pit by his brothers, as good as dead, and raised up in majesty; so also, the Babe of Bethlehem, now called a Nazarene, was placed into the tomb, and raised up on the third day.
What Herod meant for evil, God meant for good. Though mothers were robbed of their children, though the toddler Jesus was robbed of His playmates, both of them have received back all that was lost.
Rachel weeps no more. Bethlehem’s mommies weep no more. And Jesus gets His littlest friends back. Because of Jesus, the baby boys of Bethlehem do live.
Until the time that we join them, however, we will have losses and tears. Herod went after those in Bethlehem because Christ had been born among them. Likewise, in many and various ways, the Herods of this age will come after you, because Christ is among you. More than that, He resides in you; lives in you. Thus, when Herod persecutes you it is because he wants to persecute Jesus.
Our Lord promises this to us in the Gospels, and His Apostle reminds us of the same in today’s Epistle. Don’t be surprised, since this isn’t strange. It happened to Jesus, and you are to rejoice that you share in it.
But make sure you suffer as the Holy Innocents did. Not as evildoers or meddlers or murderers or thieves, but as Christians made innocent by Christ. Knowing that what Joseph’s brothers, and Herod, and Satan mean for evil, God uses for good.
How God in His providence works that out is something rarely seen by us. When Jacob was blessed to see it all work out for good, in Genesis 48, he recognized it as an exceptionally strange thing. Likewise, Bethlehem’s mommies would not see how God worked it out for another 30 years, when Jesus burst forth from the grave, bringing their baby boys with Him.
You do not know what good God will bring out of your grief:
And your various persecutions.
I don’t know either.
But God did so for Jacob, and the mommies of Bethlehem, and all His Apostles, and all His Church from age to age. He was good to them, and He will be good to you.
Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. verse 19