Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Herods and Pharoahs cannot stop God's grace.

Sermon Preached for The Epiphany of Our Lord, Observed, on Sunday, January 2, 2011.

    Our scientific perspective often leads us to see Scripture differently than the early Christians.  We look for hard facts and historical events.  They looked for images.  Early Christians saw in the Old Testament a series of types or figures of what was to come.  From the perspective of the Old Testament these were misty and blurry but from the perspective of Christ, they were made clear.  Perhaps the most famous is Abraham and Isaac when the father is willing to offer his own son as sacrifice.  If you do not see Jesus in this story, you are missing something.  This is a type, figure, or preview of the Heavenly Father who offers His Son Jesus as sacrifice for our sins.
    As we meet the treacherous Herod and the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus, I cannot help but be reminded of the Exodus of God's people and the Pharaoh who attempted to stand in God's way and keep God's children captive.  The Old Testament is replete with examples of how God's plan of salvation seemed to be blocked by earthly rulers and events but in every case, God's grace won the day.
    So when you think about the Gospel lesson for today, imagine the Exodus as a type or figure for what happened here.  Herod is like the new Pharaoh who holds the people captive and attempts to stand in God's way.  Jesus is the new Moses, who sets the people of God free.  My point is that we have heard it all before – those who would stand in God's way and the will of God to bring His people to freedom.  But this story is not repeated ad nauseam. What happened over and over again in the past, has now been accomplished once and for all in Christ.
    Herod the Great was a fearful, devious and evil ruler.  The Jews resented him as an Arab sitting on David's throne.  His maniacal cunning was accompanied by great aspirations and he was known as a great builder.  But he was ruthless and seemingly without a conscience.  He brutally murdered his own children and killed many enemies.  So when rumors of another pretender to the throne appeared, Herod did not hesitate to take out his competition – it didn't matter that he might be going against God.
    Herod's power was fear and God's people were as much captive to their fears as they were to the actual power of Herod, really a puppet whom Rome had placed as governor of the conquered territory of Palestine.
    Like Pharaoh of old, Herod's deviousness and cunning seemed to be an impossible roadblock to God's plan and design.  When the Magi arrived in Jerusalem and wondered where the King of the Jews would be born, Herod hatched his murderous plan to thwart the will and purpose of God.  But like Pharaoh of old, God would not be so easily dismissed nor would His saving will and purpose be compromised – no matter who opposed Him.  In Bethlehem the cries of mothers whose first born sons were murdered by Herod gave testament to his evil – but the grace of God was greater still.
    Like God appointed Moses of old to lead His people to freedom and the fulfillment of all of God's promises, so do we see in Jesus the Savior whom God has raised up to fulfill all of His promises of grace and freedom for His people held captive in their fears, sin, and death.
    Jesus is not simply a savior but the very Son of God in human flesh and blood.  Moses role as patriarch of God's people was shown by the light of his countenance coming down the mountain.  In the same way, the light of the star points us to Jesus.  This beacon of light was not simply the herald of another act of God but the signal that all time and all events looked forward to this Jesus and to His saving work.  Here is the great consummation of God's promise and the final act through which God would bring His people to freedom and to peace.  Moses foreshadowed Jesus but Jesus has outshone Moses.
    Moses began his life in the regal splendor of Pharaoh's palace but he could not do God's bidding from that vantage point.  Just as Moses had to become one with His people's captivity in order to set them free, so Jesus had to leave behind the hallowed halls of even to become one with us in our humanity.  He was born to live under the Law and to keep it for us and our salvation.  Jesus had to live as one of us, wearing our human flesh and blood, bearing the full burden of our sin and death.  Only when He had first become a captive like us, can we become free in Him.  Do not be deceived by the appearance of weakness, nothing can prevent God's gracious will from its appointed purpose.
    Herod the Great seemed invincible and it seemed the Magi had given Herod the opening to intervene and end all hope for God's salvation. But God turned what seemed to be defeat into victory, what was the appearance of the end, into a new beginning.
    As we look around us today, we find the world filled with Herods and Pharaohs who seem to be impossible barriers to God's work and purpose.  It seems like the Church is weak and powerless in the face of so many and so great a group of enemies.  But do not let the Herods and Pharaohs of this world cause you to fear.  God's grace always wins the day.
    This is no sweet little Sunday school story for kids.  When the will and purpose of God faces up against the evil and deceit of Herod, grace wins the day.  God and His Church have always faced seemingly invincible enemies who have power and opportunity.  But the enemies are never allowed to gain the last word.  God wins the day.
    So it is in our own lives.  We face Herods and Pharaohs whose earthly might and power cause us to fear and tremble.  Sometimes we fear that either God cannot or will not fight them off and we are left with only our worst fears.  But I am here to tell you that God refuses to concede any victory to His enemies and to the enemies of His people.  Grace will have the final word.  Enemies of Jesus and enemies of Jesus' people continue to rise up but they cannot prevent God's saving will and purpose.  It may not come when we choose or how we choose, but the message of Epiphany is that God will have His way.  The day of grace will not be stolen by the enemies of God's will and purpose.
    Even as a Baby in a manger, Jesus wins the day.  Herod's demonic anger can wound but cannot kill the hope that is born to reign in us in Christ.  The world and all its evils cannot steal from us what God has given us.  Do not forget this Epiphany lesson.  The Gentiles are welcomed, the Savior wins the day and even in the appearance of defeat, God's grace triumphs for you, for me, and for all His baptized children.  Amen.

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