This particular story, this series of events, boggles our finite human understanding. You cannot fathom such events as these, except by the Word and Spirit of God.
You cannot understand the purposes of God at work in the slaughter of innocent children, unless you have been given comprehension of the Cross and the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is true that God the Father here spared His own Son, gave Him an escape to the safety of Egypt. In your weaker moments you may be tempted to ask, “How is it that God spares His Son, but not the sons of those mothers and fathers in Bethlehem?” This all seems terribly backwards. Why is it that Jesus is saved and children are murdered in His stead? Has He not come to save His people from their sins, from death, and from the power of the devil?
But God the Father spares His Son in this case. Even this He does not do in the way that you or I might do it. He does not exercise His irrefutable omnipotent authority and power, but rather speaks His Word and entrusts the task to a mortal man, a fallen sinful man like you or me. It is given to Joseph to rescue the Holy Family, to stir them from sleep in the middle of the night, to take them away to Egypt. It all seems rather precarious, and yet, this is how God works.
He rescues His Son now, in weakness and under duress, by the agency of Joseph, His faithful servant. But this safety, this rescue, that is not forever. God is biding His time. The Savior’s time will come, when He voluntarily lays down His life for the sins of the world; when He sheds His blood to cleanse you and clothe you in righteousness.
What is perhaps both most shocking and most scandalous is that God does not spare the innocents. He does not intervene to rescue the baby boys of Bethlehem. Is there any question that He could have? King Herod is not greater than God. King Herod is not wiser than God. And God is not caught by surprise by any of these events. He has known from before the foundation of the world what would occur. He has spoken concerning this very event by the mouth of His Holy Prophet. All has transpired, not outside of His permissive will and providential care, but in accordance with His Holy Word. And we wonder how this can be.
What father stands by and allows his sons to be slaughtered? What father does not intervene at his own expense to save the helpless, the little ones who belong to him? And yet, the Lord does not prevent the slaughter of the innocents. He allows it to happen. Not that He condones or authors evil, but He uses these wicked events according to His own divine purpose and holy will
Now, make no mistake. Do not be so proud in your own sinful heart as to suppose that God has overlooked the little boys of Bethlehem or regarded their bodies and their lives of no account. Not a sparrow falls from the sky apart from His knowledge and His tender loving care. And those holy innocents are far more precious to Him than many sparrows. Therefore, He does deliver them in His mercy. But He does so, not for this world, but from this world. He saves their life for eternity with Himself in the Resurrection, and not for the trials and tribulations of this vale of tears.
It is fine and good for those little boys. They live and abide with the Lamb in His Kingdom and worship at His Throne. They serve Him day and night in His Temple without fear. Even better, they are served forever by Him, who shall raise their bodies from the dead in glory at the last.
But it was not so lovely on this occasion for their mommies and daddies. When the soldiers came and ripped those infants and toddlers from the arms of their parents, and put them to the sword, and dashed them against the rock, that was not so easy to live with.
The Lord uses the suffering of this present age to call His people to repentance. He allows you also to suffer affliction and hardship and loss, that you would be called to repent. Not only for your active sins and for the evil that you do, but for your lack of faith, for your unbelief, and for your false belief and worship of this body and life on earth. He would have you learn to view your life, not here, but in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus; not only for now, but for ever.
King Herod gets so angry. He is trembling with rage. He acts in violence. All because he is so desperately clinging to his power and position in this world. And for all his anger and might, he is afraid. He’s scared to death of a little Baby. He’s afraid that he’ll lose his place in the world. And so he thrashes about, caring not who gets hurt, caring only for himself and his earthly power.
What is it that makes you angry? What is it that makes you afraid? What are you grasping for yourself and clinging to for dear life in this world, as though this body and life were all there is?
Rachel weeps for her children. She is inconsolable. She can’t stop crying. She weeps, even though the Lord has spoken, “Cease your weeping, and stop your crying.” She weeps because she clings to her children and their life in this world. She thinks she wants what is best for them, but she does not know what is best for them. She is selfish. She wants her children for herself. She does not want to give them up to the Lord. She does not understand anything other than this life.
What is it that makes you weep? What is it that brings tears to your eyes which will not cease? What is it that makes you inconsolable, even when the Lord has spoken His Word of consolation?
You must be catechized by the Word and Spirit of God to see not only this life and this world, but to fix your hope on Christ, to fix your hope on His Resurrection from the dead and on His Life.
Do not be so angry. Do not be so afraid. Do not be so sad. The Lord has delivered you. He has rescued you. He has had mercy upon you. He has brought you out of sin and death into life. All of this He has done by His Exodus. Not simply His infant return from Egypt, though this, too, is part of His fulfillment of all thing. But by His greater Exodus, His innocent suffering and death, His Sacrifice upon the Cross as the Passover Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. By His passage through death and the grave into the Life everlasting, that is how He has delivered you from sin, death, and hell. By the shedding of His holy and precious blood, He has saved you.
He has not been rescued from Herod that He should be spared sorrow. He has been rescued now to carry the sorrows of the world in His own flesh; to bear the weight of the world upon His own aching bones and aching back; to suffer and die for all the children of men; and thus, by His Blood, to cover you, to shelter you, and to protect you from every evil of body and soul.
This promise is for you, and it is for your children, even your little children. So do not withhold that Word of God from them. And do not deprive yourself of that Word and promise.
Repent of your idolatrous love for this world. Do not make gods out of that which does not last. Do not bow down and worship in your heart or with your life that which perishes like the grass.
Repent of your anger and fear. Repent of your inconsolable sorrow. Repent also for your failure to care for your children in accordance with the Word of God. Repent of your failure to provide for both their body and their soul, for the catechesis of the Word as well as their heath and safety.
Having brought your sons and daughters to Holy Baptism, take seriously the significance of that Holy Sacrament, both for them and for yourself. Understand that by that washing of water with the Word, by that cleansing blood of the Lamb, you and your children have already died to this body and life. You have been put to death with Christ, and your life is hidden with Him in God.
Live, therefore, not as though this world were your only hope and help and consolation. Live, rather, as citizens of another Kingdom, as citizens of a City made without hands, as sons and daughters within the Household and Family of God — by faith in the flesh and blood of Christ.
Do not try to flee this world. Do not take your own life. Do not despair of that which God has given you to do here and now. And do not bemoan how much or little He has entrusted to your care and keeping. Receive and use what He gives in confident hope. Bear the Cross patiently.
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing for the food and clothing which the Lord provides, for your house and home, for your wife or husband, for your children, and for all that you have. And do not use any of it selfishly. Use it rather to help and serve your neighbor, beginning with your own family.
Do not ask why God allows others to suffer, when you yourself do not help those who suffer. Do not ask why God allows little children to be put to death, when you do not do all that you can to help protect those who cannot help or protect themselves.
Use what you have to provide for your neighbor’s needs, as the Magi did for the Holy Family by giving them gold and frankincense and myrrh, so that poor Joseph had the means to take his family into Egypt and to care for them while waiting on the Word of the Lord.
Do not try to flee this life. But hold on to it loosely, and keep your feet firmly planted upon the Rock that is Christ, knowing that your life is in the Resurrection of His Body. Knowing that, find your life here in His Body on earth, in the Church and Ministry of His Word and Sacraments.
Bring yourself and your children to and from the Altar of the Passover Lamb. Eat His flesh in the faith that God will bring you in the Exodus out of Egypt into Life. Take your shelter under His Blood, knowing that the Angel of Death must sheath his sword when you are covered by Christ.
Bring your children to and from this Altar by the catechesis of the Word of Christ. Do that which God instructed His people of old. It is no less important for you. When you get up, and when you go to bed, and as you go about your day, have His Word always on your lips, on your forehead, on your heart, on the walls of your home, and on your gateposts. Let your whole life be permeated with the Word of the Lord, that you and your children may be preserved in that which is forever.
Rest assured, the little boys of Bethlehem were not abandoned. For the Lord their God gave them fathers and mothers to teach them His Word, to bring them to circumcision, to place them within the congregation of His people. And by His catechesis, and by His Sacrament of Circumcision, they were brought into the Kingdom of God, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.
You also have been brought into the Kingdom of God by the Circumcision made without hands, by the washing of Holy Baptism, and by the precious Word of the Gospel that is spoken to you. For all things have been fulfilled in Christ, and He has done it all for you, so that you may live.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.