“Herod the Great, the Governor of Galilee, was an Idumean Jew whom History describes as an extremely cruel man: he was a man who killed several of his wives and his own sons when he suspected they were plotting against him. Challenges to his power were met with a swift and final response, and he even tried to ensure that his cruel campaigns survived him when he arranged that on the day he went on to his eternal reward, hundreds of men in the area would be killed so that there would be mourning at his funeral. Though this arrangement was never carried out, it speaks well of Herod’s nature.
And during this tyrant’s reign, the Magi — whose adoration of Baby Jesus is remembered on the Epiphany — saw the Star of Bethlehem and went to Jerusalem, asking where the new King of Jews may be found. Herod heard of their asking around about the newborn King and, calling the high priests to find out about this this Child, was informed that it was prophesied that the Child would be born in Juda.
Threatened by this prophecy, he sent for the Magi to find the Child and report back so he could go and “worship,” too. The Magi found Jesus but, knowing Herod’s heart after having it revealed to them in a dream, didn’t go back to tell Herod of His whereabouts. Meanwhile, the Holy Family, warned through St. Joseph who was visited by an angel in a dream, makes their flight into Egypt.
Herod became enraged at the Wise Men’s “betrayal,” and killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger.”1
If that scenario sounds vaguely and disturbingly familiar, it’s because the last few years have been filthy with children being slaughtered. Two years ago we hosted an Evening Prayer service to memorialize the children lost to causeless and cowardly killer in Newtown, Connecticut. A few days later after that shooting I delivered coats and gloves to the middle school, and it took forever to get into the building; every precaution was in place, and I left feeling sorry for everyone inside but strangely comforted by how hard it was to get in the front door.
This year we have ISIS and their actual reign of terror. The beheading of children is downright Herodian. This month we heard tell of the Taliban militants in suicide vests that “laid siege to a school, massacring 132 children and 10 teachers during eight hours of sheer terror. In total, 145 people were killed, including three soldiers. Those who survived emerged with stories of horror – of gunmen shooting indiscriminately into crowds or killing youngsters one by one. “One of my teachers was crying, she was shot in the hand and she was crying in pain,” Shahrukh Khan, 15, who was shot in both legs but survived, told Reuters. “One terrorist then walked up to her and started shooting her until she stopped making any sound. “All around me my friends were lying injured and dead.” A military source told NBC News that the attackers were wearing police uniforms and suicide vests. “They burnt a teacher in front of the students in a classroom,” he said. “They literally set the teacher on fire with gasoline and made the kids watch.” The government of Pakistan declared three days of mourning for the lives lost,” 2 then killed 67 Taliban in retaliation, even as the Taliban swore to keep killing children.
The world has recoiled at these events, though not really enough to do much about it. There will come a day when the only sword drawn is the sword of righteousness, the only strength known the strength of love, of that I am certain. I am also certain that today is not that day, no matter how much we wish it was.
But until that day, we have those Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, who died not only for Christ but in His stead; they will greet the innocents of today, and the same Lord they died for will gather them up in His arms of love. It is for us, now in this Christmas season, to pray that the world will come to know Jesus as we know Him, and turning in love even unto His and our enemies, to be His voice of peace.
1The Feast of the Holy Innocents, Fisheaters.