Remember the Holy Innocents

The joy of Christmas did not come without a price. This is why the Church recognizes December 28 as the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

Herod “the Great,” king of Judea, was unpopular with his people because of his connections with the Romans and his religious indifference. Hence he was insecure and fearful of any threat to his throne. He was a master politician and a tyrant capable of extreme brutality. He killed his wife, his brother and his sister’s two husbands, to name only a few.

Matthew 2:1-18 tells this story: Herod was “greatly troubled” when astrologers from the east came asking the whereabouts of “the newborn king of the Jews,” whose star they had seen. They were told that the Jewish Scriptures named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah would be born. Herod cunningly told them to report back to him so that he could also “do him homage.” They found Jesus, offered him their gifts and, warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way home. Jesus escaped to Egypt.

Herod became furious and “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” The horror of the massacre and the devastation of the mothers and fathers led Matthew to quote Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah,/sobbing and loud lamentation;/Rachel weeping for her children...” (Matthew 2:18). Rachel was the wife of Jacob/Israel. She is pictured as weeping at the place where the Israelites were herded together by the conquering Assyrians for their march into captivity.

We do not know how many young boys were killed by Herod's soldiers as they searched for the Baby Jesus. Bethlehem was not a major city at the time, so it may have been a fairly small number. Nonetheless, the parents whose children were put to the sword paid a heavy price.

Why does a loving God let these things happen? We can only speculate. It is undeniable, though, that the slaughter of the innocents continues to this day. Here is the West we routinely deliver "unwanted" babies into the arms of Moloch. In China, women who attempt to bear more than the one child allowed by population-control laws find themselves harassed, pursued and sometimes forced into abortion.

The Herod mentioned in the Gospels died long ago. Others of his kind are still with us. Will the soldiers one day come for your children, too?

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