Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Holy Innocents

The three days following Christmas Day are Saints Days: St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist and the Holy Innocents. Although all three of these call for serious reflection, I have found myself reflecting a bit more on the Holy Innocents during the past few days and I have found myself drawn to three things about the story in Matthew 2:13-16:

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

"A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because
they are no more."

  1. The story is a true story. By that I don't mean that it actually happened, although it may have, but that it is a story that reveals to us something that is true. In this case, what we see is that tyrants will stop at nothing to hold on to power.

  2. Power is seductive. While we may set out to use the legitimate power that we have for good, we can be tempted to use it to impose our notion of what is good on everyone else.

  3. People in power - and that may mean all of us to some extent - don't have to commit murder in order to cause suffering and death for others. We can do that by simple neglect. It is no wonder that the title of Jonathan Kozol's book about homeless families in America is Rachel and Her Children.
The placing of this Saints Day so close to Christmas is no accident. Not only is this story part of Matthew's Nativity narrative, the story is a stark reminder of what Christmas - the Incarnation - is all about: God's acting to share human life at its deepest level and to redeem it from darkness. The words of the 20th century theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman remind me of the Christmas work that we are called to do:

When the song of the angels is silent

When the star in the sky is gone

When the kings and princes are home

When the shepherds are again tending their sheep

When the manger is darkened and still

The work of Christmas begins --

To find the lost

To heal the broken

To feed the hungry

To rebuild the nations

To bring peace among people

To befriend the lonely

To release the prisoner

To make music in the heart.

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