Sunday, December 28, 2014

Homily for The Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Matthew 2:1-18; Revelation 14:1-5; Jeremiah 31:15-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There will be wars and rumors of wars in the Last Days. Indeed, this has been true in every age of mankind. For, wars are not waged by emperors and kings, presidents, and dictators alone, but there are drug wars and there aregang wars, and there are Mafia wars; There is the war against terror, the war on women, and even a war on Christmas. In all of these wars and rumors of wars, whether they be military, social, cultural, or political, there are casualties above and beyond and outside of those who fight in them: Children, the elderly, the poor, and the unborn just to name a few, along with many others who are simply caught in the crossfire, who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. While these causalities may appear to be merely collateral, we know from the Scriptures that this is not the case. For, we know that there is truly only one war, the war between God and Satan. And, we know that we are not merely collateral, but that, because of our sin, we are often complicit with the Enemy, intentionally, or unintentionally. We know that there are no holy innocents, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But, still, there are those, who by no actual sin of their own, nevertheless suffer and die on account of Christ. And, for Christians, we know that we all will die as martyrs before the great war is ended. For, no one gets out of here alive, because the wages of sin is always and only death.
That’s why the account of The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents today still sounds contemporary and fresh, like a headline from today’s newspaper, or a breaking story on the evening news. Everyday we are inundated with reports, complete with graphic images of the bloodshed and gore, of drive-by shootings, people pushed onto the tracks of oncoming subway trains, cops executed at point blank range while sitting in their squad cars, shootings in movie theaters, shootings on college campuses, and military bases, and so much more. In fact, not coincidentally, the last time this feast day fell on a Sunday was in 2012. Back then we were still reeling from the execution of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The line between collateral and principal damage becomes very blurry and very indistinct indeed.
Let me assure you, however, Newtown did not happen merely because Adam Lanza was insane, or even evil, and, likewise, no one who died that day was truly holy or innocent. Newtown happened because there is a war going on, an ancient war that began before the creation of mankind, a war between God and Satan. Look, I’m not saying that Adam Lanza wasn’t culpable for his actions. He most certainly was. Likewise, I’m not saying that those children and teachers did anything to warrant what happened to them. They most certainly did not. However, I do mean to lift your awareness to the overarching reality of the great war that is going on, a war in which Newtown was but a tragic and horrible skirmish. For, if you will not lift your eyes and awareness to see what’s really going on, then you will be consigned to fretting and hand-wringing as events like Newtown continue to unfold year after year, week after week, and day after day.
You see, it’s not simply that Herod was an evil, paranoid, and murderous king, – he was all that, to be sure, – but that’s not why all the male children in Bethlehem two years old and younger were murdered. No, that was not it at all! They died because Satan wanted the Son of God dead – period, – and he’d murder anyone and everyone necessary to accomplish his evil intent. And yet, the children were not innocent either, at least, not in the sense that they were without sin. No, they were sons of human fathers, just like all of us, and all people everywhere, at all times and at all places, save one, Jesus, and thus they carried the stain and corruption of their father’s sin, and his father’s before him, all the way back to our First Father Adam. Sin is sin is sin is sin is sin, and the wages of sin is death – period.
No, what we see in Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents is the true face of our Enemy Satan. It’s overkill. Herod murdered many more than he needed to murder Jesus. But, that is how Satan saw those children. And, that is precisely how Satan sees you – as lambs for the slaughter. You are collateral damage to him, and yet, not even that! For, to call something collateral is to suggest that it has some value. You and your life have no value to Satan at all, other than satiating his rage and anger at his own self-imposed hell and damnation for hating and rebelling against God. Truly, Satan exists in that place Jesus describes as being “outside the gates” of God’s kingdom, where there is only “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Satan hates God, and therefore he hates you. He doesn’t want you for your worship and praise of him. He doesn’t want you for his kingdom. He wants you to die and to suffer with him eternally because he hates God – period.
This day we remember those innocent lives cut down by Herod in a paranoid, delusional, and jealous rage. And, we remember that they were murdered simply because of Jesus, not because of anything they did, not even because of their confession of faith in Jesus like the Apostles later. And yet, over 3,000 children are murdered each and every day in this country, not by bloodthirsty, wicked kings, but by their parents, by abortion, and few bat an eye or raise a voice of concern. That’s over 1.2 million children murdered each year in the United States. Yes, there is a war going on, and the collateral damage is beyond horrific. You must lift your eyes and awareness to see what’s going on! And, then there are the reports of children, and adults, entire families and villages being beheaded, shot, crucified, or murdered in any other number of ways daily in places like Iraq and Syria. Where is the sense of horror and outrage over these lives destroyed? Truly, there is always a voice of lamentation and bitter weeping in Ramah. Whether it’s Newtown or New York City, Virginia Tech or Fort Hood, Ferguson, Littleton, Aurora, or Iraq or Syria, or anyplace, anytime, anywhere. Those are the voices that you actually hear. However, there are countless voices that you do not hear, that our culture does not recognize. Truly, we are very selective as a culture in our outrage and offense.
Yes, there is a war going on. It is a brutal and a bloody war, and most of the time it appears that we are on the losing end of it. But, take heart. We are not like those who have no hope. For, indeed, the victory has already been won by our LORD. What we experience now are but the last skirmishes of a war that is already over. In Jesus’ death upon the cross, Satan’s head was crushed, he was defeated. And, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension were the proclamation heard round the world, in heaven and on earth and under the earth: “The war is over! Satan is defeated! The LORD’s Christ has conquered!” What you experience now is the withdrawal of Satan. He can longer hold the field. His only weapons now are lies and deception by which he means to destroy your faith in the victory of Christ. And, they are powerfully effective weapons, for when you see and hear about wars and rumors of wars, and when you see seemingly innocent men and women and children being slaughtered without conscience in many and various ways, Satan will use that to shake and to destroy your faith. He does this, not because he wants you to worship him, but he does this because he hates you, because he hates God, and he knows that he is defeated and that his time is short. Therefore, like a defeated king or emperor, in his withdrawal, he commands his troops to salt the soil so that it will not bear fruit, to burn and to pillage and to plunder, to rape and to kill – just for the hell of it! – out of rage and anger and hatred for everyone and everything because of God’s righteousness and holiness which condemns Satan to hell and damnation for all eternity, where there will be eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus’ lives! The victory’s won! And, this is the feast of victory for our God! Alleluia! Though Satan may rage and destroy, he cannot take the victory from our God. That means that, no matter what happens to you and to others who trust in Christ for salvation, nothing can snatch you out of His hand. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He will work all things – even the evil and the wicked things – for the good of those who love Him in Christ Jesus, because the victory is His and it cannot be revoked. Though Satanic Herod slaughtered the babes of Bethlehem, the Holy Family escaped into Egypt, because God works all things, even the evil and wicked things, for good. And, after Herod’s death, the Holy Family returned to Galilee where Jesus would carry out His ministry, because God works all things, even the evil and wicked things, for good. And, finally, God gave His Son over, and Jesus willingly gave Himself over, as a sacrifice, that Satan would appear to win and to destroy the Son of God. But, things are not always as they appear. Jesus was the true and only Holy Innocent one. And, in His death upon the cross, he destroyed the power of sin, and He opened the pathway to life for all who trust in Him. Though Satan, and the men whom he had deceived, meant it for evil, God meant it for good. He works all things, even the evil and wicked things, for the good of those who love Him in Christ Jesus.
The war is over. The victory is won for God in Christ. What you experience now are the last and final skirmishes. But, know this: “Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on.” “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” You are they spiritually, in Holy Baptism, for you have died and have been raised to new and eternal life in the Spirit. However, upon the death of your body, your soul will be with Jesus until the day of the resurrection of your body. Then, every eye will see and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. And, God the Father, the victor over sin, and death, and Satan, will be glorified. Of that day, the Spirit and the Church cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly, come!” And the Lord replies, “Wait patiently, in faith, and in trust, and do not be afraid. But, watch, for I come tomorrow.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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