Nestled among the various Christmas-related holidays is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. In the Episcopal Church this is observed on December 28, but is actually a bit of a follow-up to the events depicted in the Epiphany of Our Lord, January 6. In the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew King Herod, having been tipped off to Jesus’ birth by the magi but then realizing they would not be returning to identify his location, “sent and killed all of the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under” (Mt 2:16). In typical Matthew fashion, this event is associated with a passage from Jeremiah (31:15), cited directly in the Gospel. Jesus escapes death because Joseph is told to flee to Egypt in a dream, also fulfilling a passage from Hosea “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Hosea 11:1).
This horrific act of mass murder casts a dark shadow over the events of Jesus’ birth, but are not out of place in the total context of Jesus’ life, a life that will end in a violent, grisly manner in his crucifixion. Fear, jealousy, violence, abuse of power, and death is the world into which Jesus was born because it is into those aspects of human existence that Jesus saves us. This is not a coincidence, but ultimately part of God’s greater plan, as revealed in Scripture. The massacre of children and the journey to (and ultimately, out of) Egypt are reminiscent of the Exodus, the delivery out of slavery of God’s chosen people. But now, we find all of humanity delivered from the pain and suffering of the worst the world has to offer by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Yours in Christ,