mama, dada, bye bye, lully lullay

Dec 27, 2012

Surrounded by presents and tinsel, peaceful nativity scenes and Christmas goodwill, it is easy to forget the full reality of the Christmas event.

At the time of the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were travellers. Their homelessness may have lasted several years and involved a journey of several hundred kilometres from Bethlehem to Egypt, and back to Nazareth. 

The readings of today’s feast of the Holy Innocents remind us of the most significant trial that this new family faced. As the madman Herod used some of his last breaths to overcome the rumoured ‘new King of the Jews’ at his birth, Joseph and Mary fled to the safety of Egypt.


That was a substantial trip. We know this from the Old Testament account of Moses leading the people of Israel (in the other direction) over the same ground. It took them forty years. But Joseph and Mary were prepared to make this journey, to ensure the safety of their newborn child.


Tragically children are no safer today than they were 2000 years ago. Of course we rightly rail in horror at Herod’s mass killing of young children. We are horrified because these children had been born and had names. 


However, had their lives been taken before birth, twenty-first century New Zealand would have little concern. 

We know this since in 2011 there were almost 16.000 recorded abortions in New Zealand. This is around 800 times the number of children killed by Herod. (We know that the population of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth was around 600 people, 20-30 of whom would have been under two years of age). 

To give further perspective: more children died from abortion in New Zealand last year, than the total number of people killed on NZ roads since 1983.

Herod’s evil action had tragic consequences; certainly for the children, their families and their little town. Perhaps Herod too could not cope with his action – within a year he was dead. 

These children did not speak, perhaps beyond a few syllables: (mama, dada, lully lullay…). Yet they proclaimed God “not by speaking but by dying”. (Collect from the Mass for today’s feast)

The taking of innocent life always has traumatic consequences. While we know that all children who are the victims of such decisions, then as now, are with God, we pray with them for those who are unable to see past their own fears and who take out their insecurities on the most innocent and vulnerable. 

The sixteenth century “Coventry Carol” is a hymn for today’s feast.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay


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