We Americans really outdo ourselves celebrating Christmas, often starting the day after Thanksgiving and sometimes before. We not only “out do,” we often overdo, glutting ourselves to the point where getting past Christmas becomes a relief.
With all the hubbub and celebrating, one aspect of this holiday that often gets lost is the season of Christmas, which begins (not ends) on Christmas Day and runs for twelve days until January 5. This season is usually only observed among liturgical churches, but it contains some powerful spiritual reminders that the rest of us might want to recover.
One of these is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, traditionally celebrated on December 28. Starting in the fifth century, the church set aside this day to remember the babes of Bethlehem slaughtered by King Herod.
As you recall, Herod was jealous of the newborn King and asked the traveling Magi to report back when they found him. When he finally realized that the Wise Men were not returning, Herod flew into a rage and had all the boys two years and under in Bethlehem killed, fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Loud weeping and lamentation over the murder of innocent children doesn’t exactly fit the “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” narrative we prefer to highlight. But like it or not, it’s as much a part of Christmas as singing angels, wondering shepherds and a rough manger filled with hay.
Perhaps we can be forgiven, given what’s going on in our own world today. Haven’t we had enough of this lately, with students being gunned down in Sandy Hook and children beheaded by ISIS terrorists? We also struggle with the knowledge that millions of young souls are trafficked for sex and labor each year, and we must face the fact that more than 50 million babies have been killed in the womb in America since 1973.
Yet these tragedies are precisely why it’s worth remembering those martyred children in Bethlehem so long ago. The message of Christmas rings true each year precisely because of all the sin, death and darkness we see around us. Christ came into a world beset by sin and enslaved to death. On the cross, he became intimately sensitized to each bloody, brutal sin we ever committed and will commit. The innocent blood shed at Christmas prefigured Jesus’ innocent blood shed on the cross as the fulfillment of His rescue mission on earth.
There’s another reason for us to remember the Holy Innocents. In a beautiful collection of devotions entitled God With Us, Emilie Griffin reminds us that Herod’s violent action was motivated by his fear of losing control, a fear we all know well.
Griffin writes, “In our weakness and fragility we are tempted to believe that we can be in control of our lives. But Christ disrupts our lives by coming into the world, challenging our sense of self-reliance. Can any of us say that there isn’t a faint shadow of Herod within us, fearful of this threat to our ego?”
This may explain why so much of the world prefers to celebrate snowmen, reindeer and Santa Claus rather than the Word of God who dwelt among us.
But Santa can never offer lasting hope for the “weeping and loud lamentation” heard all over the earth today. As we remember the Holy Innocents this Christmas season, may we all draw closer to Him who will wipe away every tear, Jesus the Christ.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.