December 26, 2007 - The Feast of St. Stephen

Daily Lectionary: Isaiah 49:22-26; 50:4-51:8, 12-16; Matthew 1:18-25

“Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city.” (Matthew 23:34)

Good grief! Can't we enjoy Christmas without such an interruption as this, the Feast of St. Stephen? Not sure who he is? Read Acts 7. He's the first martyr, the first Christian to die for confessing Jesus. Why did the church pick such a downer Feast to follow the Feast of our Lord's birth? Can't we just be happy, and forget about sadness for a while?

Sure. But for your own good, the church wants to remind you that sadness does follow the birth of our Lord. How? Because the world does not want your Jesus, born in human flesh, to save us by His God-Flesh sacrifice on the Cross. And believe it or not, that's the way it’s always been. Consider this: in the Hebrew Bible, 2 Chronicles was the last book, and Genesis the first. Now you understand what Jesus is saying in the gospel for today (Matthew 23:34-39). From Abel (Genesis) to Zechariah (2 Chronicles), beginning to end, no one wanted to admit that they were such sinners who were in need of so drastic, so down-to-earth, so God-Flesh a redemption, Jesus said (Matthew 23:37).

That's unbelief, always thinking that whatever needs straightening out with God we can do for ourselves — more prayers, more effort, more discipline, more whatever. As if that could provide shelter from your sins, or from God's judgment and wrath!

No, it cannot. “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matthew 23:37). As a hen places herself between danger and her chicks by covering them with her body and wings, so we are safe as Jesus covers us on the Cross with His Body, and then spreads His wings over us in His Word, Washing and Holy Supper. Jesus, our Hen, places Himself between the Law and you, between Satan and you, between hell and you, between the Father's judgment and you. And only by His doing that are you safe now from danger: safe from the law, from Satan, from hell and from the Father's condemning judgment.

We want that. But it isn't our wanting that that saves us (Romans 9:16). It's our Hen that saves us. Our desire for safety is His gift to us (Ephesians 2:8-9), the faith He creates by Word, Washing and Supper — faith that always trusts in Him. “As long as Jesus covers me, shelters me, sacrifices Himself for me, I am safe.” And that's just what He does by laying down His life and covering you with His wings. Many don't want that. Do not be dismayed; it's nothing new. That you want the safety He gives is mercy from God (Romans 11:18)!