REMEMBERING THE HOLY INNOCENTS
"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." (Matthew 2:16)
The wise men were indeed wise and decided to return to their country by another road (Matthew 2:12), rather than going back to tell Herod where they had found the Christ child. Joseph was warned - in another very well-timed dream! - to take Mary and the young Jesus to Egypt, to get away from Herod until told otherwise. And Herod became furious (see Matthew 2:16, above) and decided to kill all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger.
We remember those innocent children on this day, December 28 on the church calendar - The Holy Innocents.
This Herod is known as “Herod the Great”, appointed by the Romans to rule in Judea in 40 B.C. He was known for being a major builder and for the expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, among other things. He was also known for being extremely barbaric and brutal.
It occurs to me that a number of people in history named “the Great” have been really awful people. And those who suffer the most under the reign of such folks are usually the innocent ones - children, women, the elderly, and various minority groups. Throughout the Bible - both in the Old and New Testaments - we are regularly reminded that God is on the lookout for how these innocent ones are treated. There is in Scripture a “preferential option for the poor”, and those in power will fall from their thrones - especially when they abuse their power.
This would be a good day to remember and pray for all the “innocents” who suffer harm in our world today - those fleeing wars and oppressive regimes, those who do not get enough to eat or who don’t have access to clean drinking water, those with no access to education, those who die in storms or other natural disasters, those who are disabled, etc.
How might God use you and me to minister to some of his holy innocents on this day?
I will conclude with the prayer designated for this day:
"We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 238)