Depending on which branch of Christianity you belong to yesterday, today or tomorrow marks the feast of Holy Innocents. It seems strange somehow to call something so horribly violent as Herod's brutal massacre of the boy children around Bethlehem a "feastday".
Often the date goes almost unnoticed, lost in the lurch from Christmas to New Year, forgotten in the rush to post Christmas sales and the return to work.
As I re-read the story in Matthew's gospel I've been reflecting on the disproportionate violence that the birth of the vulnerable baby provokes. I also wonder how many other times God tries to break into human history and yet is brutally stopped by human jealousy. Today children in so many places are massacred - through poverty, war, abandonment and the awful personal and thoughtless violence of those closest to them ... Herod today can take many forms and does not necessarily rule from a palace.
Often at Epiphany I have preached on how the Magi were not so wise and learned after all. They did not understand Herod's power or obsessions, their learned naivity leads to the massacre and the wailing of the parents ... the vulnerable prince of peace born into violence.
"Warned in a dream" the Magi return by a different route, this gives the newborn Christ and his family vital time to flee from the jealous political power that wants him dead ... and I wonder does God also weep at the spilt blood of the innocent children, does God rejoice that God's own son is saved, are not all children, children of God?
T.S. Elliot in his wonderful poem The Journey of the Magi has the Magi learning and reflecting on their homeward journey, precisely on this life and death paradox in the experience of the birth in Bethlehem. The child born in that place was destined to die and only thus to reign over a kingdom of peace. The gift of myrrh speaks powerfully of the perfumed spices that the women will carry to the tomb after the resurrection ...
were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
Meanwhile, Patrick Comerford, whom I was privileged to meet on my recent trip to Ireland, has written as ever learnedly about Holy Innocent's day here. Here's a taster, but do read his whole post, and the ones that will follow for the remaining 12 days of Christmas:
Oscar Schindler famously said: “Whoever saves the life of one saves the entire world.” He was referring to a well-known teaching in the Talmud: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world” (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4: 8, 37a) ...
This is an appropriate day to remember those children whose innocence has been destroyed by people working in the Church.