holy & innocent

Surrounded by gifts, good food and Christmas goodwill, it is easy to forget the full reality of the birth of Jesus. 

At the time of the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were travellers. Pope Francis made this the central point of his Christmas homily in St. Peter’s. The homelessness of Mary, Joseph and their child Jesus may have lasted several years involving 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 this new family faced.  As the madman Herod used some of his last breaths trying to do away with the new King of the Jews, Joseph and Mary escaped with their child to the safety of Egypt, a journey of a few hundred kilometers.

Tragically children are no safer today than they were 2000 years ago. Of course we rail in horror at Herod’s mass killing of young children. We are horrified because these children had been born and had names. Had their lives been taken before birth, twenty-first century New Zealand would have little concern.  We know this since in 2016 there were over 13,000 recorded abortions  in New Zealand, that’s 450 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). 

Herod’s action had tragic consequences; certainly for the children, but also for their families and for the little community of Bethlehem. Perhaps Herod too struggled to cope with with the consequences of his own actions since within a year he too was dead.   The taking of innocent life always has traumatic and widespread consequences. While we know that all children who die so young are with God, we pray with them for those who are unable to see past their own perspective and who act out their fears on the most innocent and vulnerable. They too can continue to live in the presence of a God whose love for us is always greater than any of the bad choices we might make.  

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.