The Feast of the Holy Innocents (2014)
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
December 28, 2014
Central Passage
Matthew 2:13-18

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Innocents, so named because they were innocent of any wrongdoing yet were murdered by the wicked king. They weren’t insurrectionists or militant rebels. They posed no immediate threat to that evil king or to his kingdom. They were innocent children, babies. And we rightfully cringe at their slaughter and are justifiably tearful at their story. Just as it is written, “Rachael weeping for her children for they are no more.”

It is easy to get wrapped up in the emotion of the death of innocents. And we should at times. The emotion is one of anger at death, anger at evil. It is emotion that stirs our pity and our empathy and causes us to love a little stronger those who are given to us. But now is not such an occasion. For there are differences in different sorts of deaths. And these we call the Holy Innocents died a particular death.

It is not the how that is particular and that would cause our emotions to rightly boil, but the why.  For while they are called innocent by the Church – and the world would too in the sense that we call children “innocent” – they were in fact guilty. Now perhaps here many would dive into original sin and talk about our guilt before God. But to do that, I think, is to sound a discordant note. That is not their guilt, or at least it’s not the guilt that earned them Herod’s wrath. Rather, the Holy Innocents were guilty of being Christ-like.

It was enough for the wicked king that they were male children as the Christ was a male child. For this reason they were slaughtered, because they were Christ-like.

The world will always reject the Christ because it does not know Him. If they knew Him they would not seek to kill Him but would receive Him as the Church receives Him: with great joy and celebration, with great awe and anticipation. But the Christ comes and with Him comes a particular presupposition that the world cannot accept. Rather, two presuppositions. The first is that His coming seals the fact that we are indeed sinners and in need of a Christ. Why this would so upset the world is beyond telling, though. All one has to do is flip on the nightly news to see that we rob, kill, and steal as easily as we bake bread or turn on Christmas tree lights. Most of us think we don’t do such things, but we do. And if we were sure there’d be no consequence of shame or imprisonment, we’d do it all the more.

Moreover, all of us die and so all of us need one who can save us from death. Even the heathen wants that which is why the heathen gives condolence cards that talk about loved ones living on in our hearts and minds and memories. That is not where our departed live on. They live on Christ who is our life and the upholder of our life even in death. So we all need a Christ, a Savior, because we all die.

The second presupposition the world has and why it rejects and hates and wants to kill the Christ is the reason Herod wanted to kill Him. Because He comes as King. And we are not only rebels we are self-proclaimed kings. Herod didn’t want the King of the Jews to take from him the throne. Not because Herod loved the people – far from it as the murder of the Holy Innocents shows us – but because he loved himself; and he was king. He was ruler of his domain, master of his vessel. That is how we all see ourselves. We are kings of our lives; rulers of what is ours. That’s why ads use such slogans as “It’s your life,” and “Have it your way,” which is the slogan, perhaps tellingly, of a food joint with the name “King”.

And the Christ does come to depose the kings of the earth for He is King of kings. Herod was not wrong, the world is not wrong. They rightly see in Christ one who comes to dethrone them and take from them what they call their own because it is actually His. They’re even right about what He wants to take, the kingdom He wants to rule. And that is the kingdom of their hearts. Perhaps a better word of it is the kingdom of their will.

The Christ is the King and He does come to dethrone us lesser kings. Not from palaces of gold but from the palace of our wills and hearts. But it is no small thing for an earthly king to give up his kingdom. Which is why Herod sought to kill Him, why the world seeks to kill Him, and why even our own sinful wills seek to kill Him. And in so seeking to kill the Christ we murder innocents.

When we seek to justify our way we don’t care who we kill so long as we get it. Now I’m not talking about tastes and likes, preferences of things. “Our way” means in the way of the gospel. So when we seek to uphold our morality as good then we condemn others who aren’t as good. In so doing we have killed them as Christ did not come to call the righteous but sinners. When we cling to our self-imposed traditions, thinking that they are the way and will of God, refusing to be guided by His Word and the gospel, then we seek to kill Christ who is the Word of God and the gospel of God.

Psalm 2 says,

1Why do the | nations rage*

and the peoples | plot in vain?

2The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel to- | gether,*

against the Lord and against his anointed, | saying,

3“Let us burst their | bonds apart*

and cast away their | cords from us.”

4He who sits in the | heavens laughs;*

the Lord holds them in de- | rision.

5Then he will speak to them | in his wrath,*

and terrify them in his fury, | saying,

6“As for me, I have | set my King*

on Zion, my | holy hill.”

7I will tell of | the decree:*

The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;

today I have be- | gotten you.

8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your | heritage,*

and the ends of the earth your pos- | session.

9You shall break them with a | rod of iron*

and dash them in pieces like a potter’s | vessel.”

10Now therefore, O | kings, be wise;*

be warned, O rulers | of the earth.

11Serve the | Lord with fear,*

and rejoice with | trembling.

12Kiss the Son,

lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,

for his wrath is quickly | kindled.*

Blessèd are all who take ref- | uge in him.

This psalm may well be speaking of true earthly kings such a Herod, but it is also speaking of us who would be kings of our lives and rulers of our domains.

The good news is that here we kiss the Son with the kiss of peace. By coming to receive His blessing and absolution, His benediction we seek His kingdom. By participating in Him in the Holy Supper we worship Him and take refuge in Him. And in doing so, in bowing to the King of kings we secure for ourselves His blessing and glory. Not that we save ourselves but that He saves us despite ourselves and draws us to Himself by His Spirit.

Blessed are you who take refuge in Him.

+ In Nomine Iesu +