Three days after Christmas, while we are still rejoicing in the birth of the Savior, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Innocents. Today’s feast focuses our attention on two things.
First, it reminds us of the world into which Jesus was born – a world of suffering and sin – a world desperately in need of the peace Jesus offers. Innocent young children shot to death in their school. Drone attacks in which civilians are killed. The examples of suffering are endless. (I was delayed in writing my post this morning because of news that the apartment building in which one of my students lives burned down – fortunately he got out.) In the words of Henri Nouwen:
We live in a world groaning under its losses: the merciless wars destroying people and their countries, the hunger and starvation decimating whole populations, crime and violence holding millions of men, women and children in fear. Cancer and AIDS, cholera, malaria, and many other diseases devastating the bodies of countless people;…it’s the story of everyday life filing the newspapers and television screens. It is a world of endless losses.
That is the world into which Christ is born – and the world in which we are invited to be Christ. Even now – so many years after the birth, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus – the question remains for each of us: Will you help help infuse the world with Christ’s presence? We don’t answer those questions merely by singing beautiful carols around the creche. The feast we celebrate today reminds us that the world needs more from us.
Second, our remembrances of the massacre of the Holy Innocents – the young male children put to death by King Herod in his effort to destory the Christ child – confronts us head-on with the reality that the Incarnation of God as human is inextricably linked with the rejection, suffering and, ultimately, death the Savior will undergo.
Christmas fills us with beautiful images of a child in a manger, surrounded by adoring shephards and Maji and gloroius angels singing of God’s glory. But, in the words of Francios Mauriac, “the gentle Child shivers with cold on the edge of a criminal world while angels promise peace to men of good will – a peace that can be discovered only after a full measure of suffering; but in the shadows of his birthplace Herod’s soldiers sharpen their knives for a slaughter of innocents.” The world into which Christ was born is populated by many who will reject Him and, like Herod, try to destroy Him.
Today’s feast reminds us both that the world needs us – that we are meant to meet the suffering of the world as Christ did – and that in so doing we may face the same rejection as he did. It is a sober reminder in the midst of our holiday cheer.