December 28th is the day that the church set aside centuries ago to honor the memory of the first martyrs of the Christian faith, known to many as The Holy Innocents. Here is their story:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him... Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
I have a two year old son. His name is Julian. I call him Juju most of the time and Pooge sometimes, Julian rarely. He is my delight, my joy, my buddy. His mannerisms, his way of mixing up syllables or letters in words, the way he loves to take my sock out of my hand as I putting it on and run away from me with it laughing... All these things and more bring life to me.
The thought of a soldier ripping my Juju screaming from my arms and driving a sword through his chest is more than I can bare to consider. My life would be taken along with his either because I would fight the soldiers to protect him, or his death would hollow out my soul. It is just too hard to think about. Yet that is what this text asks us to do - if we are willing to enter into it, if we are willing to weep with Rachel.
That is why I don't like this day. I don't like facing the brutal and ugly truth of this story - that a king could order something like this and that there were men who, in the name of honor, duty, king, country, etc., were willing to execute it.
Christmas is suppose to be about "peace on earth and goodwill to all men." Not this, not infanticide, not the blood of innocent baby boys spilt because of the paranoia of a power addicted king.
What bothers me most is not Herod, the king whose kingdom has long since past, whose bones are but dust, whose wealth lies buried under tells in the Judean wilderness. It is the King whose Kingdom is eternal, whose power is unlimited, whose grace and love and goodness fill the earth.
If he could warn Joseph into leaving through a dream, why not scare Herod into not doing through through a vivid nightmare? Why did the arrival of the Prince of Peace have to initiate such evil and violence? Why was the Word of God silent on this matter?
If you are hoping for a pretty bow to tie up these questions with a nice answer, sorry. Don't have one.
Perhaps Herod is one of the only characters that gets Jesus. On the one hand you could say that if he knew that Jesus would have no interest in Herod's throne or wealth or power, then he would have left Jesus alone and along with Him those precious little boys. But, on the other, you must notice the Herod understood that Jesus' arrival was a threat to his way of life and everything he held dear. Every idol Herod had erected, literal or metaphorical, was in danger of being demolished by this peasant, this "king" of the Jews born in Bethlehem. And Herod would not go silently into the night.
Violent and powerful people will always oppose the reign of an alternative kingdom. This is still happening today. The wealthy, influential, and powerful still today are either directly or indirectly involved in the poor children staying poor and experiencing great suffering.
Dozens were slaughtered that day by Herod's men. That many and more die by the hour today for reasons just as foolish - no clean water, no food, no access to basic medicine.
Despite my beef with God about allowing these deaths, I realize that the Kingdom of Jesus rises up to enter into suffering and redeem it alongside the kingdoms of this world that are only interested in protecting their own national interests, homeland security, personal wealth, etc.
In which Kingdom do we want to participate - the one that redeems with suffering love or the ones that do their work, even "just" work, through power and violence? Do we want to protect our own interests or those of the oppressed?