28 December 2017

Of Fathers and Kings

There are basically two kinds of King.

There are those who provide daily bread for their people; who give life and protect it; who use their strength, their power and authority, to serve and to care for their people.

And then there are those kings who take life from the people and seize it for themselves.  Kings who feed themselves at the expense of their subjects.  Kings who exercise their strength against the weak and the helpless, in order to consolidate and shore up their power.

So, what sort of king are you?

A king is called to be a father to his people, just as a father is a king in his own castle, called by God to be the head of his own household and family.  What, then, should that mean, and what should it look like?  How is a father to care for his family?  How is he to love and serve his wife?  And how shall he provide for and protect those little ones whom God places under his authority?

A father is called to feed his family in body and soul, not only with ordinary bread and water, but with the Word of God.  He is to guard and protect his family, and to use whatever strength and skill the Lord has given to strengthen his wife and children.  He teaches them by what he says and what he does.  He disciplines his children in love, being slow to anger and quick to forgive.  And when he sins against his family, he repents and makes amends.  That is how a father is supposed to be.

Within your own kingdom and castle, however big or small it may be, what sort of father are you?  What sort of king?  How do you treat those under your care?  Do you give life or take it?  And how do you exercise your strength?  Is it like St. Joseph, the son of David?  Or more like King Herod?

Consider the example that God has given you in St. Joseph of Nazareth, who quietly and quickly served his family, caring for St. Mary and her Son at the Word of the Lord.  He did not argue or debate.  He simply obeyed.  Sure, he was probably frightened; he was probably frustrated; he was probably tired.  But he still got up and immediately did what the Lord instructed him to do.  That is the sort of father he was by God’s grace.  He walked in the footsteps of his father, King David.

By contrast, there is Herod.  He was neither quiet nor obedient, but angry and violent.  He used his position, his power and authority, to murder and rob, in order to protect himself and his position.

In the case at hand, we are told that Herod was enraged; he was greatly angered.  But it was envy and jealousy that fueled his anger — the idolatry of covetous lust.  And behind all of that, it was fear that really drove him to such violent rage.  He did not fear God, but he was deathly afraid.

Real power is able to serve.  It is not afraid for itself, because it is not threatened.  It does not have to crush and destroy — it is rather able to give — because it is content and complete and secure.

But if you do not fear the Lord your God, then you will be driven by the fear of man, as Herod was.  And you will be driven by the fear of death, from which you cannot and will not escape.  When you worship the perishing idols of this fallen and perishing world, you are inevitably consumed with fear, because your gods are always dying, all the time, and you are dying along with them.

And if you imagine that life is something to be taken and held within your hands, to be seized and kept by your own power, then your life will be a contest, a competition, even all-out-war, and everyone else will be your enemy.  But no matter how you fight or play the game, no matter how ruthless or cunning you may be, death will still outsmart you, outmaneuver you, and beat you.

Sometimes you are Herod, giving your ferocious but ultimately futile orders.  And sometimes you are Rachel, inconsolably weeping for your children.  And sometimes you are the infant snatched out of her arms and put to the sword.  Sometimes the tough soldier, sometimes the little child.

But even Herod dies in the end.  All men die, because all men sin.  Learn, then, how to grieve rightly, that you may learn to hope in the Lord.  Do not mourn as those who have no hope.  And do not let your grief drive you to anger or despair.  But fear the Lord, and love and trust in Him.

If you are angry, do not let anger be your god, but fear the Lord and repent.  Sadly, the children of men have allowed their anger to get the better of them from the fall into sin to the present day.  Brothers against brothers.  Sisters against sisters.  A rock to the back of the head, a club, a sword, a gun, or biting words and cunning schemes.  But do not let your anger master you.  Do not stoke the anger in your head and your heart, and do not let it break out into violent words or actions.

Your Lord has taught you how to deal with your brother when he has sinned against you.  If you are rightly angered by his fault, do not sin, but approach him and admonish him in love, and pray for his repentance and the renewal of his faith in Christ.  In any case, do not hold on to your anger, but fear the Lord with whom there is forgiveness, and forgive your brother his sins against you.

Are you exasperated?  At the end of your rope?  Impatient?  Will no one listen to you?  Is your life so hard and painful?  Fear, love, and trust in God.  Call upon His Name and confess His Word.

If you must bear the reproach and the hostility of man, so be it.  That will then be the Egypt where you sojourn as a stranger for a time, where the Lord will still bless you and keep you by His grace, until He shall call you out of Egypt to Himself in due season.  Your Father will take care of you.

It is not the first time that Joseph must go down to Egypt to survive the violence of jealous anger.  That is where he flees, and that is where the Lord preserves his life and his family — even though Egypt is no friend of Israel, and Egypt is not the land that God has promised.  Egypt is not home.

And when a king arises who knows not Joseph, he seeks to destroy you by one means or another, you and your children, and no place feels safe; nowhere feels like home.

And when your children are no more — whether because they have died, or they have grown up and moved away, or they are estranged, or they have departed from the faith — whatever the case, it may be that you refuse even to be consoled or comforted.  You become angry and lash out, or you drown yourself in sorrow and despair.  Maybe even Christmas brings more grief than joy.

But now, repent of such faithless unbelief, and trust that Christ has not forsaken or forgotten you.

When everything is taken from you — when you are driven on the run, and nowhere is safe, and nowhere is home — when you are the little one, the helpless child who is snatched from your mother’s breast and arms, and you are put to the sword, and stabbed through the belly or stabbed through the heart, and even your soul is pierced with grief and pain — even then, do not despair.

Even now, says the Lord, restrain your voice from weeping and dry your eyes from tears.  There is hope for your future.  There is safety, peace, and rest.  There is a place for you.  There is a home where you belong.  There is yet life, that you may not die anymore forever.

The Lord has called you His Son.  He has written His Name on your forehead and your heart.  It is true that He has also signed you with the Cross and put you to death for many a day, but only for the sake of raising you up to a brand new life in Christ Jesus.  So will He also call you out of Egypt at the last.  That is a sure and certain promise, as sure and certain as the Lord your God.

He will call you out of Egypt — through the Red Sea and the Jordan — through the Cross and Resurrection — through your Baptism — out of death and the grave into the life everlasting.

He has not forgotten you in Egypt.  Nor is He out to destroy you.  He is a different sort of King than that, and a different sort of Father than you have known on earth — though every father on earth, including every pastor, is called to be like the Lord your God in caring for His children.  There are good examples — like St. Joseph! — but they all point to the One who is King, to the One who is Father, who deals with you kindly and gently, who strengthens you and gives you life.

That is the sort of King He is, the sort of Father He is, even when it does not seem like it at all.  Even when the ruthless reign on earth, and innocent children are murdered.  Even when the royal ways and wisdom of your God and Father are beyond you and hidden from your sight; and you cannot comprehend His purposes, but you have only His Word to you that says, “Go” or “Stay.”

Hear and heed His Word in the confidence of faith, and go or stay as He commands.  Only take the Child with His Mother with you, and keep the Child with His Mother close at hand wherever you may roam.  For that little One is your Peace, and for His sake you shall live.  He is the King who gives life, who feeds His people with good things, and who strengthens you at His own expense.

In this beloved Son, God the Father has taught you how to pray.  As He is now your own God and Father in Christ Jesus, and you are His dear child, He has invited you to come to Him for all that you need.  For every ache in your heart.  For the hunger in your belly.  For the fears that surround you.  For life in the midst of death.  For all of this and more, He answers your prayers in peace.  He has mercy on your weakness, and kindness, and love.  And He forgives you all of your sins.

Whatever evil the world has inflicted upon you in its animosity, hostility, and violence, the Lord your God has permitted only to the extent that He, in His mercy, should work it for your good.

And whatever evil you have wrought; whatever fear and terror have threatened the very heart of you; whatever covetous lust has enticed your soul; whatever anger and violence, grief and sorrow, despair and shame have gotten their hooks into you — all of this He crucifies and puts to death in you, in order to remove it from you.  All of this He slays, in order to give you life.  All of this He covers with the shedding of His Blood.  And with that same holy and precious Blood, He cleanses you and clothes you in His righteousness.  He ransoms and redeems you from death and the grave.  And even in the wilderness He quenches your thirst; He feeds you on the journey to and fro.

For Judah has made Himself the Surety for Rachel’s children.  Not Joseph or Benjamin, not Ephraim or Manasseh, but the Lion of Judah, the Son of David, He is the King of Peace.  He uses His strength to save His people at His own expense.  He sacrifices Himself to spare them.  So He is the One who goes down into the well, into bondage, into the prison house of sin and death, into the very depths of Sheol.  But none of it can hold Him.  He comes up and out again forevermore.

As He has thus become an acceptable Sacrifice to His God and Father, and ascended to the right hand of the Father — where He ever lives as your High Priest, and makes intercession for you, and shelters the holy martyrs under His wings, and preserves them in safety and peace under His Altar — so it is for you and all who believe and are baptized into Him.  Your life also is an acceptable sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.  And you ascend to stand before the Throne day and night, to serve your God without fear, in peace, in joy, in happiness, even when all around you there is death.  In Christ you are presented to the Father, not for death, but for life as God’s own child.

For everywhere that Lamb has gone, His Mother and her children follow after, that you also may be with Him where He is.  His God and Father is your God and Father.  And if St. Joseph kept and cared for the Holy Family on their pilgrimage, much more does your Holy Father care for His Church on earth and keep her safe and sound in Christ Jesus from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.  Whether you dwell in Israel or Egypt, in Bethlehem or Nazareth, in Michigan or Indiana, your feet are surely standing on Mount Zion in the midst of the heavenly Jerusalem.  And so shall you abide in the Lord’s own Land, and dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

No comments: