The Holy Innocents ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI
Reading I: 1 Jn 1:5—2:2
Responsorial Psalm: 124:2-3, 4-5, 7cd-8
Gospel: Mt 2:13-18
Liturgical Colour: Red.
Today, we as a church remember The Holy Innocents, those infant boy martyrs all aged 2 years and under. This liturgical season has such a huge contrast. Only 3 days ago, we were celebrating the joyous celebration of the birth of Our dear Lord and Saviour, Jesus. Then the very next day, our thoughts turn To st Stephen and his Martyrdom for Christ. Now, we are remembering these Innocent young child martyrs, and how they were slaughtered on the orders of King Herod.
Let us first look at The Gospel reading for today of Mt 2:13-18:
When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son.
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.
It’s extremely difficult to imagine that anyone could see a little baby as such a great threat, yet that is exactly what is recounted in our gospel today. When Jesus was born, the shepherds and magi see in the Christ Child a Lord and Saviour. King Herod, however, sees the baby Jesus as merely a rival that has to be feared and to be eliminated. The “Holy Innocents” we celebrate today are all those little babies that Herod had murdered in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill this child Jesus. Sadly, this event is not the first such occurrence of this nature in the Scriptures. When the Israelites grew numerous in Egypt, Pharaoh also sensed a rival and thus ordered all the babies to be thrown into the river. Despite this attempt, Moses, like Jesus, escaped the plot against them. The important point in these stories is that we need to recognize that God’s plan was brought about even in spite of these murderous efforts to thwart it. Many babies died in Egypt and Bethlehem and yet Moses and Jesus remained safe and sound. God’s plan was accomplished.
The readings tell us today about light and about darkness. The magi are in darkness, and yet they see the star and follow the guiding light it which it shines. They are willing to go out of their way, to change their lives to conform to God’s guidance. The magi find their way to that light. We too are often given the choice between being in light or in darkness.
This day which commemorates the sad slaughter of so many innocent children in Bethlehem is somewhat ironically also a feast day on which is for celebrating. Whilst we remember the horror of the deaths of these little babies, and the traumatic suffering their families obviously suffered by their slaughter, We also celebrate the fact that King Herod’s plan failed. Not only did Jesus survive, but the lives of the little babies were not snuffed out eternally as Herod had planned. Rather, these children now live forever in God’s heavenly Kingdom, where they intercede for us. Yes, we rejoice to see that God’s plan is triumphant even in the face of great opposition and evil. Light will always be triumphant over darkness. The only question that remains is, will we live in the darkness of this world, or will we follow the light and live in the Lord our God and Saviour, and he in us?
Let us pray:
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 union of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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