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The Church’s annual observance of Christmas is rightly one of the happiest and most enjoyable of its annual celebrations. The account of God Himself, entering into this world by taking on human flesh and dwelling among us is announced by the angels, “behold, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10).
The Church’s exhortation to its people is that we should strive to hold onto this “Christmas spirit” for as long as possible.
But it does seem as though it is the Church itself that puts a real damper on the ‘love and peace and joy’ of the season long before the eggnog has gone bad. What was it thinking when it set December the 28th, as the day when we are to recall and recount the terrible occasion of Herod’s order to kill the baby boys in Bethlehem two years old and under? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a Christmas pageant that included this part of the Christmas story.
The point is, this is the world that God entered in the birth of Jesus Christ. The “spirit of Christmas” lasts but a moment and almost immediately the darkness tries to overcome it. The Christmas story is set in a pool of human blood. And even as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we know that He will also be murdered and His blood will also be poured out into this pool.
The “spirit of Christmas” that shapes and defines the worship of the Christian Church is the Holy Spirit who transforms our momentary happiness into a deep appreciation of the willingness of almighty God who controls all things by His omnipotent power, to humble Himself and enter into this world, as vulnerable to the forces of evil as we are. To save us, to redeem His creation, to make all things new, to “bring you good news of great joy that shall be to all people.”
The occasion for our consideration of Herod’s ‘slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem’ this morning is the 40th anniversary of the legalization of abortion in this country. Herod is responsible for killing all the baby boys in Bethlehem and the vicinity around Bethlehem. He was really only interested in the death of one particular baby boy, but he had no qualms in killing them all to be sure he got the one. For Herod, it was all for one. For Jesus, it was one for all.
Bethlehem, being the little village that it was, certainly did not have many baby boys two years and under to seek and destroy. Estimates are that there couldn’t have been more than 20 to 30 total. When you compare that to the 1.2 million abortions that we do in this country every year and the cumulative effect of doing it at that rate for 40 years, Herod’s holocaust seems almost forgettable.
But there is certainly something terribly wrong and I think grossly disrespectful about spinning this story around numbers and statistics. And that is because every single life is precious in the sight of the God and murder is forbidden whether it be at the rate of 3,000 per day or just one.
We boldly and clearly declare with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church that life is sacred and that life begins at conception. And this is not based on science and technology or the careful distinctions in terminology but on the Word of God. Our confession that life is sacred from the point of conception is based on the fact that it was at the point of conception that God entered into this world. If He had entered this world as He most certainly could have, at birth, or as a child, or at His baptism in the Jordan River, the sanctity of life from conception to birth would be an “open question.”
For nine months, the creator of the all, who fills all in all, was confined to the uterus of a woman, dependant for His life on the umbilical cord that attached Him to His mother. Luther goes so far as to call the womb of Mary “the majestic throne room of God.”
In coming to us in this way, Jesus, in whom the fullness of the godhead dwells, even at conception, has sanctified each and every life from the moment of conception and through every stage of development including the delivery and birth and in every stage of life thereafter, including death and even life after death. By taking to Himself, our life at every stage, He has claimed it as His own, and what is God’s is holy, holy, holy.
This is why the Christian Church began to celebrate March 25th, the “Conception of our Lord,” long before it ever put December 25th, Christmas on the liturgical calendar.
If the life that exists from the point of conception is so insignificant that it may be snuffed out, then our Lord’s life within His mother’s womb is equally insignificant and could just as arbitrarily be aborted. And if Christ be aborted, then we are all without hope in this world.
But because this one fetus was carefully cared for by His mother, and His mother carefully cared for by brave and faithful Joseph, one baby was born into this world. And through the life of this one baby, comes life and salvation for of all who receive Him.
The point is, every human life is precious and sacred because God has entered into all life by becoming human. The value of life is not to be measured by its gender or I.Q. or by whether it is a “wanted” child. The value and dignity of every single human life is to be measured by the price that was paid to redeem it. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty life… but with the precious blood of Christ.” (1 Ptr.1:18-19).
This morning, we commemorate those who were born and whose lives were cut short because of the murder that was carried out in accordance with Roman law. And this morning we also commemorate those, whose lives were cut short before they were born in accordance with the law of the United States of America.
We pray for our nation that condones such murder and our prayer is for repentance. We are not so naive as to believe that repealing a civil law will end all abortion. Only the gospel can change the hearts and minds of man to honor the gift of life that is given by God Himself. But how can we begin to think of ourselves as a ‘civilized nation’ with one of the highest standards of living in the world, when we officially approve of and provide for the elimination of the most defenseless and vulnerable or our own citizens?
We pray for women, who either out of ignorance or willful design have aborted their children. Statistics being what they are, roughly one out of ever three babies conceived in this country are aborted, and there are many Rachels weeping for their children because they are no more. We pray for repentance, that they may not refuse to be comforted, but receive the forgiveness and release and newness of life that is freely given to all who will receive it by the One child, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
But still, we are left with questions. What about those babies who were never given the chance to receive Him? How shall we pray for those unborn children who were conceived in sin as we all were, but who did not have the chance to repent; who were never baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?
We pray to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in His great mercy, He would have mercy on those who could never ask for mercy for themselves. We pray that God, in His mercy, would provide a way for them to enter into His Kingdom and have the life that is joined with the life of Christ and the communion of saints who laud and magnify His name forever.
I know that this sounds like we are venturing into the ‘unrevealed mysteries’ of God, something that for Lutherans is off limits. Call it frustration, call it desperation, but we deeply desire to undo an evil that only God Himself can undo and redeem. For only God can make that “are no more,” that which “are again.”
Yet, there may be a place to gain just a toe-hold for our hope, in the Holy Scriptures, where God has revealed the mystery of His will.
The first to worship the Christ child was Elizabeth and the unborn fetus in her womb whose name was John. When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s house, the baby leaped in her womb for joy, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb… For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:41,44).
If John the fetus, could confess his faith in the Son of God when he heard the voice of Mary, through his mother’s ears, then perhaps, in His mercy, almighty God might also make His Word to be heard by every fetus who comes into the presence of the Word of God. This is why, when pregnant mothers come to the railing for the Sacrament of the Altar, we pronounce the blessing over their belly. For, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17)
Just as it is very ‘unLutheran’ to delve into the ‘unrevealed mysteries’ of God, it is equally un-Lutheran to end a sermon with Law. But having already gone where we should not go this morning, we will risk everything on the grace and mercy of God and sin boldly.
I remind you all that the Law of God comes before the law of the land. Just because the civil law gives us the right to “choose” to end the life of our unborn babies, this does not mean that we have the ‘choice’ to commit murder. It may be legal but it is not moral. When the law of the land runs contrary to the law of God, St. Peter’s dictum applies, “we must obey God rather than man.”
The 5th Commandment states, “thou shall not murder.” This means that “we should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body but help him in every physical need.” As Luther makes clear, a complete understanding of this commandment goes beyond the prohibition to take the life of another human being.
It also demands that we that we “help our neighbor in every physical need.” And whoever keeps one side of this law but fails to keep the other, is guilty of breaking the whole law. Sin is both what we have done and what we have left undone.
But God knows what wickedness and evil there is in this world, He was born into it, died for it and remains present in it. By His power and through His Spirit, He commands us to speak up for and defend our neighbor in His name. And that especially includes those who cannot speak up for and defend themselves. For this is precisely what the Son does before the Father for each and every one of us.