A Sermon for the Fourth Day of Christmas: Holy Innocents

From God With Us by Pr. David H. Petersen. 

He came unto His own. His own received Him not. It is not merely wicked Herod. It is all of Jerusalem that rejects Him, for all of Jerusalem is deeply troubled at the coming of the wise men from the East.

The wise men want to know where the King of kings, the Prince of Peace, is to be born. They are wise by virtue of Daniel. He had prophesied in their country. He must have brought them at least some of the books of Moses, for they have Balaam’s promised sign of a star. They have seen it fulfilled. By faith, with trust that the God of Moses has fulfilled these things and provided a Savior, they come to worship the one thereby announced. But the star, for the time being, has only led them to Jerusalem, and they do not know where the Messiah is.

It seems that they did not have all of the Old Testament, that they did not have even all of the things written by the time of Daniel. In any case, they did not have Micah’s promise to Bethlehem, even though Micah predates Daniel. But it was not a great mystery as to where the Messiah was to be born for those who did. The priests were well-trained in the Scriptures. They knew all about the thirty pieces of silver and the potter’s field. They were quick to respond to the wise inquiry: “Bethlehem.”

And yet, none of those Biblical scholars followed the wise men to Bethlehem. Instead, they were troubled with Herod, and all Jerusalem with them. They were not rejoicing. They were raging, plotting. They did not want the Messiah and the necessary upset that He would bring to the world. Herod lashed out with Satanic hatred and violence unequaled in all of time, and he did so with the consent of both Jerusalem and the theologians. The boys of Bethlehem and their mothers bore the brunt of that wicked rage.

The boys gave up their lives while the fullness of God hidden in Mary’s babe slipped off in the night. What kind of a God is this who lets the babies die? What kind of a reward is this for David’s city? Where is the peace pronounced by angels to the shepherds in Bethlehem’s fields? Where is God’s good will toward men?

The answer is not very satisfying to our intellect: the ways of God are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. But it is satisfying to faith. And if you think that you have plumbed those depths, that you understand Him, that His ways and thoughts make sense, then you have committed idolatry. You are worshiping a figment of your imagination which you call God but who looks and thinks like you. Repent. He is not fully comprehensible and we cannot judge Him. We have no right to make demands or to insist on what seems just to us. We submit in faith and wait for His goodness to be revealed.

What we have is what He has given us. We have His Word. It is His revelation to us, His self-revealing. We can go nowhere else. In that Holy Book we are told that in this way, by the horror of Herod’s slaughter in Bethlehem, is the prophecy from Hosea fulfilled: “[O]ut of Egypt I called my son” (Hos. 11:1). That was the purpose and it is good. The boys died. Their mothers mourned and refused comfort. Jesus escaped in weakness, and in weakness He came forth again from Egypt after Herod’s death. He is the Lamb led to the slaughter without complaint or resistance, but not until the appointed time. He responded to Herod’s violence, even as He would later to Caiaphas and Pilate, with humility.

He submitted to their violence, but only of His own will, in His own time, on His own terms. God is hidden in the weakness of that infant flesh. No one forces His hand. The daring rescue of mankind that will cost Him His life cannot be thwarted, but it will only be accomplished when all things are fulfilled. In the meantime, the boys of Bethlehem are spared a life of suffering. They went early to their reward. Unlike their mothers, their hearts were never broken. They were never lonely. And thanks be to God, they never had to suffer the disabling sadness that comes from outliving one’s children.

They died that day so that Jesus might escape and return to die for them. His martyrdom is the liberating gift to the boys of Bethlehem. His life is exchanged for theirs. They seemed to die that day, but they really lived. Herod delivered them to heaven, peace, and joy without measure. Thus they praise God still, not by speaking but by dying. Their lives are empty of themselves and are filled with Him.

So it must be for each of us. The life Jesus lived, He lived for us. The death He died, He died for us. And the resurrection to which He rose, He rose for us. When we are broken upon Him, who was rejected by the appointed builders but made the chief stone by the Father in heaven, then the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is ours. He breaks us, empties us, so that He might rebuild and fill us. He slays us so that He might raise us again to life. His ways are not our ways: they are better, even when they hurt. In the end, we are the ones who are called out of Egypt and away from Pharaoh’s slavery to sin and death. He makes us weak, like children, and then in Him—only in Him, always in Him—we are strong.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:11-12 KJV). The boys of Bethlehem were not abandoned. Their mothers found comfort in the wounds of Jesus who died also for them. Now they have been reunited with their sons. They will never be separated again. And already now, after maybe fifty long years of grief here on earth without their babies, they have enjoyed nearly two thousand years in perfect bliss won by Jesus with their children. Thus saith the Lord to the women of Ramah who refused comfort, “Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and [thy children] shall come again from the land of the enemy” (Jer. 31:16 KJV). Death is not the end. The enemy loses. He does not get our children. He does not get us. Rachel is rewarded.

Thus St. Paul writes: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18 KJV).

God be praised. He does all things well.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
__________

See also: A Hymn for Holy Innocents sung in Gregorian chant.

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The Brotherhood Prayer Book: O Antiphons

The O Antiphons are historic antiphons designated for the Magnificat, which is the traditional canticle for Vespers. There are seven O Antiphons, sung on the seven Vespers leading up to December 24th. Seven years ago, we asked Pr. Sean Daenzer to record these Antiphons sung to the Gregorian tones in The Brotherhood Prayer Book, beginning on page 397, along with the Magnificat. We’re posting them again this year with links to each one.

The order for singing this Vespers canticle is Antiphon, Magnificat, Antiphon. The name of each antiphon is derived from Old Testament titles given to the Messiah. In fact, the hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” is a lyrical version of these antiphons.

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The Advent Wreath: An Excerpt

“The lighting of an Advent wreath during the Advent season is a Christian ceremony which has come down to us from about the time of Martin Luther. As before the birth of Christ the light of prophecy concerning His advent and His redemptive work became brighter and brighter, so the nearer we come in the church year to the feast of His nativity, the greater the amount of light from the Advent wreath. This ceremony is helpful for recalling, discussing, and teaching the significance of Advent.”

-An excerpt from Ceremony and Celebration, in which Rev. Paul H.D. Lang describes the theological significance and historic, confessional Lutheran position on liturgy, ritual, and ceremony.

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These Christmas cards remain…

After an avalanche of Christmas card orders, these are the designs
that we still have in stock. Have a closer look, see the inside, and find
purchase information on our Christmas cards page.

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Gottesdienst Crowd discusses The Brotherhood Prayer Book

Why pray the Psalms, and why should they form the center of the Christian’s life of prayer? Why use Gregorian chant and how do you learn it? Why have a book for prayer at all? Join Pr. Jason Braaten (of Gottesdienst: The Journal of Lutheran Liturgy) and Pr. Michael Frese (of Redeemer Lutheran Church-Fort Wayne and Emmanuel Press) in this podcast which answers these questions and also discusses what led to the creation of The Brotherhood Prayer Book.

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Christmas Cards that Focus on Christ

No generic winter scenes or Santa’s overflowing bag of toys for us – all else pales in comparison to God incarnate in the manger, born to die for the sins of the world. Gloria in excelsis Deo (below) features a colorful stained glass with 1 John 4:10 inscribed inside: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Puer Natus (left) is a 16th-century illuminated manuscript from a Latin Divine Service book in Italy. The inside text is Isaiah 9:6, which also appears on the cover: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

As you’ll read on our Christmas cards page, you can create a custom assortment of Christmas cards, whether it is one design or a mixture of all eleven. Choose from a variety of styles, including stained glass, illumination, triptych, classic art, and original commissioned pieces.

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The Word Remains: All Saints’ Day

“Therefore, take comfort: it is not all over for those who have fallen asleep in the Lord! They are merely sleeping. He who by His own death-sleep in the grave sanctified our graves as mere bedrooms stands even now at the deathbed, calling, ‘Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden!’ And when He lays them in the dust of death, He says, ‘I will give you rest!’ and ‘Here you will find rest.’ And if death is sleep, then each of the dead has the hope of resurrection.”

-an excerpt from The Word Remains: Selected Writings on the Church Year and the Christian Life by Wilhelm Löhe

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Introducing…New Christ-centered Christmas cards

We are pleased to introduce two new Christmas cards this year! This brings the total to 11 designs exclusive to Emmanuel Press.

The first card, Savior (right), shows the infant Christ standing on the lap of the Virgin Mary, who gently receives her child’s embrace. We see St. Joseph through the archway. This 17th-century painting by Italian artist Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato is a tender portrayal of the bond between mother and son. Yet this Son is the Savior of the world, as is echoed in the inside greeting: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

The second card, Nativity Triptych (below), is an update of a previous design, now featuring a festive but subtly textured background. This beautiful nativity scene comes from a Russian triptych in our own collection. A triptych is divided into three panels which are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. The angels in the side panels are identified in Russian as Michael and Gabriel, while the text in the middle declares “the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (There is a note on the back of the card with this translation.) The greeting inside proclaims, “Glory to the newborn King!” which comes from the refrain of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Visit our Christmas card page to create a custom assortment of Christmas cards. Choose from a variety of styles, including stained glass, illumination, triptych, classic art, and original commissioned pieces.

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Not Just for the Altar Guild

“The service which the altar guild can render is valuable as an aid to extol the beauty and greatness of God and to awaken the response of His people in all forms of beauty, care, and reverence. Beauty in the church is not a matter of indifference….Why do we want to make the house of God and our worship of God as reverent and beautiful as possible? Such a desire is of God and for God. He is present in our churches. Through His Word and sacraments, Christ comes to us as we are gathered together in His name.” (p. 11)

In What an Altar Guild Should Know, Paul H.D. Lang gives detailed information about church services and rubrics, liturgical terms, everything related to the altar, sacred vessels and linens, paraments, and other topics related to liturgical worship.

However, this is not just a How To manual for altar guild members and their pastors. Lang offers keen theological insight into why reverence and beauty and the externals of worship matter. Anyone interested in liturgical worship would benefit from reading this book (especially in conjunction with Ceremony and Celebration) In addition, we have switched to a Wire O binding so that it can now lay flat.

Preparing a setting for the Gospel: “By making God’s house and the services of the church more beautiful, we provide the Gospel a setting in which it is more attractive to people and puts them in a more receptive frame of mind for worship….Of course, God’s Word and sacraments are not dependent on human embellishment for effectiveness. They are in themselves ‘the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth’ (Rom. 1:16). It is only fitting, however, that we should present them in surroundings that are as attractive as we can make them.” (p. 11-12)

Externals not essential, but important: “God has not given Christians of the New Testament era specific laws governing the outward forms of worship. Christianity is not essentially a matter of externals but of faith and life….Where the Word of God is rightly taught and the sacraments are rightly administered, there is the Christian church….Nonetheless, externals are invariably associated with Christian worship. Therefore they are important. Christian doctrine, faith, and life are never merely theoretical, barren, or lifeless. They express themselves in outward acts.” (p. 12-13)

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God With Us: Daily readings for Advent

Cover-God With Us-new cover website

God With Us by Pr. David H. Petersen contains fifty-nine sermons spanning Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, including daily sermons for all of Advent. Many customers tell us that they’ve given God With Us to family and friends since these brief sermons serve well for daily devotions.

Excerpts: “How might we keep the Law and love one another without fail, without holding back? Setting our will to do it or making promises and resolutions has never worked before, and it won’t work now. How might we keep the Law which we’ve never yet kept before? By putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. That is it. It is the only way. It is in being loved, being forgiven, being fed the Holy Supper that not only is sin forgiven but faith is also strengthened. In that—those things that God has given for His Church, for her faith and life—the Holy Spirit takes up residence and works do follow. The only way for sinners like us to keep the Law is to have the Law kept for us.”

“The boys [of Bethlehem] gave up their lives while the fullness of God hidden in Mary’s babe slipped off in the night. What kind of a God is this who lets the babies die? What kind of a reward is this for David’s city? Where is the peace pronounced by angels to the shepherds in Bethlehem’s fields? Where is God’s good will toward men? The answer is not very satisfying to our intellect: the ways of God are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. But it is satisfying to faith. And if you think that you have plumbed those depths, that you understand Him, that His ways and thoughts make sense, then you have committed idolatry. You are worshiping a figment of your imagination which you call God but who looks and thinks like you. Repent. He is not fully comprehensible and we cannot judge Him. We have no right to make demands or to insist on what seems just to us. We submit in faith and wait for His goodness to be revealed.”

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