Friday, December 28, 2012

December 28: Holy Innocents, Martyrs. A Necessary Stumbling Block?

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs. It is a most difficult feast to understand, let alone celebrate.  Especially in light of the recent mass murder of six and seven years old children in a Connecticut school and the continued drone attacks on civilians I find it difficult to think of the massacre of infants as a Feast Day.

Madeleine L'Engle writes in The Irrational Season:

"Holy Innocents' Day is a stumbling block for me.  This is a festival? this remembering the slaughter of all those babies under two years of age whose only wrong was to have been born at a time when the three Wise Men came out of the East to worship a great King; and Herod, in panic lest his earthly power be taken away from him by this unknown infant potentate, ordered the execution of all the children who might brow up to dethrone him. "

We celebrate calculated human acts of violence upon the most innocent of all? Tragic events happen everyday.  A man being pushed in front of a subway car, a mother and her children losing their home and are tossed out into the cold, a child is raped by someone she  trusts, environmental destruction is accepted because it is profitable for the shareholders, are all examples of this cruel world. Do we celebrate these?  If we confronted these tragedies head on, we should begin to question our trust in a benevolent God.

It makes no sense!

But then  neither does  the incarnation, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth make sense.  What does not make sense is the faith of oppressed people in all ages and lands who affirm their belief in  a better tomorrow by surviving and thriving to overcome the forces of evil.  What does not make sense are my  ancestors' affirmation and trust in a loving, caring, and omnipotent God while their children were being snatched from them and  their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, beaten in front of them?  What made them  continue to sing the songs of freedom?

Perhaps the proper response is compassionate presence.  Refuse to offer an explanation.  Can we?  Instead perform acts of mercy: dry the tear of a heart broken mother; hug the grieving father, change the diaper of an orphaned baby.

Their will be time to question our faith.  And we should.  There will be a time to act for justice.  And we will.  But now it is the season to sit, remember, reflect, and be present.

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.
(Collect. Feast of Holy Innocents. Book of Common Prayer. 1979).


  1. Sorry, Cecil. I can't celebrate any slaughter of innocent children, any more than I can fail to work to end drones and domestic violence and assault weapons in the US. Yes, I can help to comfort those survivors who suffer, but that only makes it more urgent to do everything I can to prevent the violence before it happens. Jesus's unjust suffering doesn't make violence OK.

  2. Hi DeEtte:
    I hope I did not leave the impression that I celebrate mass murder (or any killing). Rather I think we ought to recognize and remember violence. Too often we like to erase away those things that are terrible, explain them away, or ignore them. The church remembers these horrible incidents so near the celebration of Christmas, so that we would not slide into ignorant sentimentalism. Life is hard and cruel. The gospel accounts of the life of Jesus testify that God recognize that fact and chooses to endure Life's hardships and joys with humanity and all creation. Jesus' unjust suffering reminds us that we can neither ignore or reduce the significance of violence, but we are called to follow the example of Jesus by working to disarmed the forces of violence with the force of love. I agree with your statement, "I can help to comfort those survivors who suffer, but that only makes it more urgent to do everything I can to prevent the violence before it happens." This choice may lead to suffering and death. However, we choose the better way.