Verse of the Day

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Holy Innocents - First Sunday after Chirstmas

Sermon - Rev Hap Arnold
Church of the Faithful Centurion - Descanso, California
At this Christmastide, we have been concentrating on the joy of the Christ’s coming to earth; rightly so!  But, in our liturgical calendar, the days go on.  Right after Christmas, we celebrate Boxing Day in the Anglican tradition, but more than that 26 December brings us the recollection of Saint Steven Deacon and Martyr; he was killed under the direction of Saul of Tarsus, the same person who with God’s Grace and Help became Saint Paul.  The following day, 27 December, recalls Saint John, the longest lived of the Apostles whose writing gives so much to the theology of the New Testament.  That brings us to today, 28 December, when we recall The Holy Innocents, whose deaths are connected with Jesus’ birth.   

An odd combination of days and thoughts for those who do not choose to think or delve deeply into a subject upon which their eternal lives are dependent.   Most people, if they go to church, are Creastors, that is people who attend church on Christmas and Easter.  This is certainly better than not at all, but one wonders why the two major events of the Christian year do not inspire them to more in depth consideration of what is, after all, the instructions for the remainder of their life here on earth and eternity.  As ministers, I guess most of us wonder why we cannot get the message across.  Still other people, members of churches, come every Sunday, so long as it is convenient.  That is certainly better yet, but their knowledge falls short of the information available in the Bible.  While the Book of Common Prayer is a wonder, it only provides propers for the Sundays and Holy Days, the subject matter is limited to the 52 high points if you make every Sunday!  Often parishes overlook inconvenient days, such as Holy Innocents, or even worse the Circumcision.  They only fall on a Sunday every seven years and who will know, anyway?

So, precisely what is The Holy Innocents?  Why is it important?  Start with the Gospel we just heard from Saint Matthew:

Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men(Matt 2)

Herod was certainly not a nice fellow, he ordered his own sons killed in another incident and in fact, one of his own sons was among those who were murdered in this event. Macrobius (c. 395-423), writes in his Saturnalia:  "When he [emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered to kill, his own son was also killed, he said: it is better to be Herod's pig, than his son." Even being among Herod’s own family was not a sure guarantee of safety, based on his penchant to murder people, even those of his own blood.

Based on the number of people in the area, probably around 1,000, it seems likely that 20 or less children lost their lives in this event.  Worldwide?  It was a minor hiccup; if it was you or your child, the casualties were terrible. The killing of an innocent child, a baby is among the most terrible and heinous of crimes. Christ says that it is better to have a millstone hanged around your neck and be cast into the sea, than to harm one of these precious gifts of God. 

I would not like to be among those who murder little children at the Last Judgment, especially those who run and operate abortion clinics. I cannot pretend to know what God will or will not say or judge of these folks, only that I will not want to be in their position when that day arrives.

So, what do we take from this?  Well, first there is the historical fact part.  Matthew wanted to document what happened.  Fair enough.

Why did Herod sacrifice the children?  “For the greater good.”  In this case, his greater good.  He did not want this “Messiah” to mess up his gig.  He was making a great living out of keeping the Jews under control for the Romans, the last thing he needed was to have some Messiah mess things up. He did not want the Jews to experience the Freedom the “Messiah” would bring; in this case, Jesus would free us from death. Herod was jealous of the title of the “Messiah” and figured incorrectly that Jesus would be competing with him for ruling of the land of Israel. He could or would not grasp Christ was not sent to the land of Israel.  He came to prepare us for not just life here, but the world to come.  For eternity.

If we let Him, He will rule our hearts with absolute justice.

“For the greater good[1]” is a concept oft used to justify doing terrible things so that someone else can benefit.  Normally the person(s) benefiting in the end are those doing the sacrificing, not being sacrificed.  Important difference.

Can you see the similarity between the Holy Innocents being sacrificed for Herod’s greater good and the children being thrown to Molech?  In the case of Molech, parents threw their first born into the fires of hell to gain earthly riches.  Herod directed the murder of children so he could continue his criminal enterprise without interference by a Messiah.

Now, think of the children being murdered in the womb, torn apart while alive, dismembered, then thrown in the dumpster so that their parents won’t be inconvenienced or punished with a child. 

At the very least, if one does not want their child, they should at least put them up for adoption to give a family who does want a child a chance at loving the child, they could or would not love. But, alas, think, if one does not want a child, they shouldn’t partake in the act that would create the child in the first place! This is why there is an order to the prayer book. First comes Baptism, then Confirmation, then Marriage, then the Birth of a Child and so on till finally the Burial of the Dead. The point is, there is a certain order to life as God has ordained for the successful and fruitful multiplication of this earth, and if anybody performs this order out of sequence, the results could be catastrophic.

Abortion – Holy Innocents – Molech 

What is the difference?

A while ago in the On Point section of the AOC Sunday Report, Rev Bryan Dabney provided a quote from James Kennedy, an American theologian, teacher and author:

We have been made for eternity! Yet though such a belief exists in every ancient religion from the Egyptians to the Persian to the Assyrian and Babylonian, the Chinese and the Hindu, everywhere it has waited for Jesus Christ to give to it a certitude nothing else could grant.[2]

While Christ has been present since He made the world, so has evil.  As elements of Truth, that is the Christ of God, come out in every religion, so do elements of evil and the Devil.  As Christ waxes strong, the Devil of necessity wanes.  If we let our faith in Christ wane and our country deviates from the firm foundation upon which it was founded, the Devil gains strength and becomes bolder. The solution to counter Satan is to increase our strength in Christ and embolden others around us to do the same, then for our little part, Satan’s hold will diminish.

So, let’s quickly talk about the propers.  In the Collect, we find ourselves asking to emulate children in their simple steadfast faith even unto death.  For only by simple faith in our Lord can we enter into heaven.  Faith as of children, accepting our Lord for what He is, not what we want to make Him.  For He is the Maker, not us!

When John talks about the 144,000, they are, symbolic or actual, the essence of the children who have gone before us.  Simple faith and without fault at the Father’s Throne.

The Gospel, a straight forward historical rendition, shows how important it is to act on God’s instruction.  Had Joseph not taken Mary and Baby Jesus into Egypt, the story would have ended right there.  But, Joseph acted and the story played out.  As Matthew pointed out, this is not the first time children were lost and in numbers.  It was important that Jesus not be among them.

Heaven is at the end of an uphill trail.  The easy downhill trail does not lead to the summit.

The time is now, not tomorrow.  The time has come, indeed.  How will you ACT?

It is by our actions we are known.

Be of God - Live of God - Act of God

[1] It happens to be one of the favored slogans of the German National Socialist Party, much better known by its contraction Nazi.  They slew millions “for the greater good.”
[2] D. James Kennedy - Why I Believe, p.65

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