When we read about the events that occurred right after the birth of Christ - in the 40 days or so right after the birth of Christ - we should be struck with how carefully God plans for our salvation. Everything was already arranged. He knew that Herod would wax wroth. He knew that he would try to kill Him. And although He was only a babe, Herod could not kill Him, because evil is powerless against good. Jesus avoided Herod quietly, very quietly. First He warned the wise men not to go back to Herod, and then He warned Joseph in a dream, to flee into Egypt, and he did. The God-man fled for His life into Egypt, as a babe, but a king as well as a babe, fully in control of everything.

Now Herod, after he saw that Christ had escaped his clutches, was extremely angry. Herod was a brute of a man. He later died in terrible agony, and worms ate his flesh while he was still alive. And the last thing he did was to call his guards to tell them to kill all his enemies, because he wanted to kill anyone that threatened him even after his death. And what did he do shortly after our Lord's birth? He wanted to kill all the children in the area. Ten thousand holy Innocents were murdered. This should teach us something. It is historical fact, but brothers and sisters, do not read the bible as a history book, because the events in it are carefully arranged, by the providence of God, to teach us about the Christian life.

Now right after this glorious occurrence - a quiet occurrence, but glorious none the less - known by the wise men2, known by the shepherds3, known by the simple people4, and exclaimed throughout all the heavenly hosts5 - the birth of Christ - came a terrible torrent of evil upon that area. It was not accidental that this happened; it was inevitable that this would happen, and we should learn from this occurrence for our own lives.

The Christian life is struggle. The Christian life is battle to the death. Now, God gives us great consolation and fills our hearts with His grace and this exceeding happiness that a Christian should have, at least occasionally, when he wonders at the grace of God. Indeed, a Christian should be happy. And the real meaning of the word happy is blessed. He should feel truly redeemed, he should be at peace in his heart, because he knows that God desires his salvation more that he even desires it himself. But in the midst of this peace that we should feel, there are great deprivations and great difficulties and great sadness.

If a person indeed does not lament and mourn, then he is not a Christian. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."6 The mourning of these mothers was forced upon them. Some of these mothers certainly must have endured their pain with grace and received crown for what they endured. And others, they just lost their children and they probably were among those that later, in their old age, said, "Crucify Him, Crucify Him."7

They suffered involuntarily, but a Christian must suffer voluntarily. A Christian must understand that as God gives grace, the Evil one hates us and tries to take away everything that is given. He tries to snatch away the seed. Now, if we leave the seed out on the ground, the hard earth, it will be snatched away by those birds of the air, the demons.8 If we don't protect the seed, and nurture the ground, then tares, weeds, will spring up and choke our life.9

We must expect temptations. The Fathers say, without temptations, no man can be saved. And the reason is because Satan hates good. When he sees good, he reacts against it. He used as his instrument Herod, that wicked man, who killed ten thousand holy innocent children, who had nothing whatsoever to do with the birth of Christ. We number then as martyrs.

We see this pattern repeated over and over and over again in the Gospels, in the entire scriptures, and you should see it in your life. Indeed, when you have something in which God truly blesses you, you should steel yourself and be careful, because Satan is lurking like a lion, waiting to devour10, and he will try to devour in the very near future after some victory is obtained.

Now, should we be afraid because of this? Should we be morose? No, not at all. Our Lord and God and Savior showed us the path, He showed us how to live. As a babe He ran away, at night, into Egypt, when He could have called down legions of angels to protect Him. As a man, He allowed the rabble to take Him by night, to try Him unjustly and crucify Him, when He could have called down legions of angels11. Evil thought that it was able to kill Christ, but it was powerless. Herod thought that he could kill Christ when He was born, but he was powerless.

Many times there are things that go on in our lives that truly wash over us like waves and cause us great distress, whatever it might be, such as a terrible situation at work, a family situation that grieves us, maybe our own sins, or something that we cannot battle very effectively at the time, and many other things. And indeed, also as a Christian, we should notice the world around us and grieve and lament and mourn that so few know the God-Man Jesus Christ, and so few live according to this knowledge, even within the church.

The examples of the Scriptures where they show that temptations follow God's grace, sort of like a hyena follows after the dogs when they make a kill, and eventually will steal the kill from them.12 This is what happens. The demons follow after God and try to upset His grace. And this is possible to do, but only if we do not understand the mercy of God and only if we do not live in this mercy. If we live according to the Christian way of life and understand the Resurrection, then we are unshakable. What does it say about the martyrs that we read in the Old Testament, in the Wisdom of Solomon? - "In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery, And their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace."13

Even in the midst of our trials, our difficulties, which indeed as Christians we should feel with a great depth of soul, and with great sadness concerning our own weaknesses, and the weaknesses and sins of those we love, and the difficulties that assail the Church, and all the rest, even in the midst of all these terrible things that occur, we must be at peace, because we must understand that God truly has our salvation planned. It only is required of us that we follow the trail that He has already blazed, that we live as He has taught us to live. Then it matters not, concerning the Herods of the world that try to kill us, because we will be at peace.

Truly the Gospels are a beautiful multi-faceted jewel. This story has many facets, and is a sweet story to tell to children. We can talk about Jesus on the donkey and the tree bowing down to worship Him as He went into Egypt, and the beautiful story of Justus and Dismas. The Good Thief was Dismas, who allowed the Theotokos and Joseph and the Family to pass and did not rob them. Later on, Dismas was saved, 30 years later, and Justus went to judgement because he had not shown compassion to the family. All these are beautiful stories, they are all true, and they are very profound. But there is a hidden meaning in these stories, and today I want you to try to understand this hidden meaning.

Expect temptation, but don't fear it. Expect difficulties, but don't fear them. Don't become despondent because of the difficulties of living the Christian life. You are not the only one that struggles to say your prayers and gets bored with them. You're not the only one that has difficulty in the middle of the fast with being crabby because you'd rather eat non-fasting foods. You're not the only one that falls into difficulties with anger, or with lust, or with cowardice, or all the rest. If indeed, you understand that you are part of a plan, that God has redeemed you and will indeed perfect you until the day of Christ Jesus14, as St. Paul says, then you should not fear all these things. You should expect them, and like a good soldier, you should fight them.

A soldier who knows that there is going to be an invasion in the night readies himself. He makes sure his weapons are in good working order. He makes sure he understands what the commander has told him to do, what the plan of defense and counter-attack is. He does not cower in his foxhole, because that is a sure way to die. We must be like these soldiers. We are soldiers. We should expect attacks; we should expect Satan to try us, to make things difficult, but we should be at peace because we should feel part of the plan of God, that he cares for us and wishes us to be saved.

I believe in my heart, this is why the birth of Christ and the aftermath of his birth and all the planning that was done is described so carefully, and also such care is taken to describe things about the Mother of God and her birth, and the birth of St. John the Baptist, and all the prophecies. Their purpose is not just to give us an historical tapestry, but it is also to show us the care that God has for us in intimate detail.

So when you struggle tonight or tomorrow or the next day with a sin, God is aware and God cares about that struggle at that moment. Do not feel despondent about your struggle. Do not feel despondent about any losses that you suffer. They are only battle skirmishes. You can lose many battles and still win the war, as long as you stay the course that the Commander has given you. So we must stay this course, which is the living of the Christian life, with faith and with love, and with confidence. Don't be afraid of temptations, brothers and sisters. Don't expect everything to go perfectly well because you are a Christian. Every day as a Christian, you should mourn something. Mostly you should mourn your sins. You should mourn how little you've accomplished in holding on to the grace of God, which He has given. But in the midst of this mourning, you must not have a sense of hopelessness. Because even if you do not appropriate the grace that God wants to give you today, He will send down the same grace tomorrow and the next day and the next. You must learn to appropriate this grace. You must learn to live with faith. You must learn to see God's plan in your life. Then you will realize the true meaning of the incarnation.

Jesus Christ lived the life that He wants us to be able to live. He accomplished what He wishes us to accomplish. The battle has been fought, and it is already a decisive victory. The kingdom of God is within you!15 We have all already won. We need only to appropriate this victory. It only appears to us that we are losing the battle, with our sins or with difficulties in life. Indeed God has already fought this battle for us. If we live according to the plan, and we feel secure in His embrace, just like a child, nothing can harm us. Little Sven has no worries in the world. He knows his mommy and daddy are going to take care of him. He does not worry whatsoever about what tomorrow will bring. This is you we should be. He's just going to do what his mommy and daddy tell him, that's all. He will grow, become bigger, stronger, and become a man. It's the same with us. Rest in God's plan, brothers and sisters.

Of course, to rest in it you must follow it. In the places where you don't follow it you should feel great restlessness. You should feel great sadness if you're not following his plan, if you're not living according to the commandments in some way, if you're not prioritizing your life properly. Indeed, then you should feel great fear and great trembling. But if you are following the plan as best as you can at the moment God will reward. God will not abandon. This is what this reading is really trying to show us. This is what all the planning that the Scriptures describe is trying to show us. God cares. God knows every hair on our heads.16 Certainly He knows every temptation we will encounter, every sin we will sin, every sadness we will feel. And He will not abandon us, but we are required to not to abandon Him, in order to remain close to His grace.

Brothers and sisters, believe in the incarnation and the Resurrection. Follow the path. You know how well it is marked out. It's marked out well by the Scriptures and by the way of life in the Church, the perfect way of life. Strive to learn the commandments and be at peace, even though you will have worries and troubles. I tell you honestly, my life is filled with troubles and worries, more than I ever had in my life before. And they affect me in ways I wish they didn't do. But I know absolutely that I am on the path, and therefore I'm not afraid. You should not be afraid either, even in the midst of all the difficulties you encounter. Stay on the path, listen carefully to the still small voice that God has, when he shows you the way, and be at peace. And save your souls in the midst of all tribulations. Amen.
1 This sermon was transcribed from one given on the Sunday after Nativity, Dec 27/ Jan 9 1999/ 2000, at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox church, Dallas, Texas
2 Matthew 2:1-12
3 Luke 2:8-18
4 Luke 2:18
5 Luke 2:13-14
6 Matthew 5:4
7 Luke 23:21
8 Cf. Matthew 13:3-9, the Parable of the Sower
9 Cf. Matthew 13:24-25 - the Parable of the tares
10 (1 Pet 5:8) Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour
11 Matthew 26:53
12 In Africa, the wild dogs often make a kill, and the hyenas or lions often steal it from them.
13 Wisdom of Solomon 3:2-3
14 (Phil 1:6) Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
15 (Luke 17:20-21) And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: {21} Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
16 (Mat 10:30) But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Matthew 2:13-23

And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. {14} When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: {15} And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. {16} Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, the 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 inquired of the wise men. {17} Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, {18} In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. {19} But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, {20} Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. {21} And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. {22} But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: {23} And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.