Christmas for the Suffering: Holy Innocents

Today is the fourth day of Christmas, which means it’s the day on which we traditionally remember the bit of the Christmas story everyone wants to forget. For the 4th day of Christmas is Holy Innocents day, a day when the church remembers Herod’s slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem in his bloodthirsty attempt to get rid of the One who was born King of the Jews, and secure Jesus’ throne for himself (Matthew 2:16-18).

When the wise men came to Herod asking about the One born King of the Jews, Herod knew exactly what they meant, for ‘he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him’ (Mt 2:3). We can see that he knew God’s Word about the coming King, because he knew to ask the chief priests and scribes ‘where the Christ was to be born’ (Mt 2:4). Herod’s sin lay in His reaction to this Word of the Lord. How? Well, what is sin? Sin is the opposite of faith: it’s not trusting in Christ and His Word. And all of Herod’s actions in the rest of the passage are driven by His opposition to the Word of the Lord!

Herod wants to destroy the Incarnate Word (Mt 2.12-13). Not only does he refuse to acknowledge Christ the newborn King, but he wants to make sure no one else can either. And so he sets out to kill the child! He raises his rebellious hand against the Word of the Lord with its good news of the coming of the Saviour from sin. He would rather extinguish the Light, and keep the world plunged in darkness, than humble himself to bow before the Incarnate God.

But the Lord sends His angel to warn Joseph and protect the family from Herod’s pride. And so Herod slaughters the babies, because He fears the truth of God’s Word.

Herod’s slaughter of the children of Bethlehem is the Dragon lashing out against Jesus (Rev. 12:1-5). This was a devastating strike of the Dragon’s tail. This was the work of Herod in his determination to undo God’s promise of salvation by killing the Saviour so He could keep the throne for himself. And this is the work of the Dragon, Satan, who, when He can’t destroy Christ, lashes out at those near to Christ.

But where was God as the Dragon struck? Where was God as the innocent children of Bethlehem were killed and families devastated? He was there. He was there in the flesh, fleeing as a refugee to Egypt. And ultimately, He was there in the flesh heading for the Cross, where, like those boys of Bethlehem, He would be murdered. For He has entered fully into our pain and sorrow.

The Father knows just what it’s like to see His Son unjustly killed. And the Cross truly would be a slaughter of the innocent. For on the Cross, the Innocent would die for the guilty.

God doesn’t justify or explain our suffering. Instead, He enters into it fully and embraces it fully to save us – through the suffering and death of Jesus, the Incarnate God, upon the Cross. So that sheltering in Jesus our Saviour we can pass safely through the sufferings of this life and be brought safely to that day where there will be no more pain and suffering and where we shall see that truly ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.’ (Rom. 8:18)

Holy Innocents’ Day, on the 4th Day of Christmas, reminds us that Christ has come, not for the non-existent people of the TV ads with their perfect, stress-free Christmases. No, Jesus has come down to us in the midst of the true pain and suffering of this life. Jesus has come down for those whose lives are falling apart. And He didn’t come to offer an explanation or a coping mechanism. Much better, Jesus entered into the fullness of our humanity with all its sufferings and sorrows for all those who suffer and sorrow, so that through His suffering and sorrows for us, He can ultimately wipe away every tear from our eyes.

You are the God of the weak and the vulnerable.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
You judge the tyrant and the cruel.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
You wipe away the tears of the broken-hearted.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
(Penitential Kyrie for Holy Innocents' Day, from Common Worship)