Text: St. Matthew 2:13-23
Collect of the Day
Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise not by speaking but by dying. Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Intro: Matthew’s Gospel tells of King Herod’s vicious plot against the infant Jesus after being “tricked” by the Wise Men. Threatened by the one “born King of the Jews,” Herod murdered all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2: 16-18). these “innocents,” commemorated just three days after the celebration of Jesus’ birth, remind us not only of the terrible brutality of which human beings are capable but more significantly of the persecution Jesus endured from the beginning of His earthly life. Although Jesus’ life was providentially spared at this time, many years later, another ruler, Pontius Pilate, would sentence the innocent Jesus to death. (From: The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)
The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents: Some accounts number them at more than ten thousand, but more conservative estimates put their number in the low dozens. 10,000 children or 1 child murdered is one child too many. The picture above is a painting by Giotto di Bondone (1266/7 – 1337). It is eerily prescient of the many pictures of the bodies of Jews in piles in the concentration camps. Their only crime was they were of the same religion as the One born this holy season. It makes no sense. Neither does any abuse of children sexually, physically and/or emotionally from Newtown to our town.
Herod the Great was probably a functional atheist; he thought he ruled by his own right and authority. He was his own god as all dictators and tyrants vainly and terribly imagine themselves. We read a lot about the atheism of a Christopher Hitchens, but he pales to the tyrants who think they are gods. With no fear of God in the multitude of Herods, it seems in our days and centuries and it’s lack of the fear of the Lord, we are in the most functionally atheistic of all time. We do what we please. We are own gods and children, the ill and the elderly are expendable.
The gripping movie, Judgment at Nuremberg is about the trials after World War II of the lower level Nazis, in particular, the judges who sent the ‘mental defectives’, and other “undesirables” to their deaths after a “legal trial”. A key character is the fictional judge, Ernst Janning (played by Burt Lancaster). He was known in the Weimar as one of the greatest legal minds in Germany. He participated in the crimes against humanity for the Nazis yet he knew it was wrong. In one of the last scenes of the movie, Herr Janning asks the main American judge, Hayward (played by Spencer Tracy) to come and visit him in his prison cell. It turns out for the reason that Janning wanted a kind of absolution:
Janning: Those people, those millions of people. I never knew it would come to that. You must believe that, you must believe that.
Judge Hayward: Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.
The death of one man or one child makes it easy for the autonomous, ‘kingly’, ‘great’ self to kill more and more. Mother Theresa said, “… if we accept that the mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants.” It took one Child to reverse the sin of Adam. The holy innocents unwilling death and the grief of Rachel, their mothers, weeping for them who are “no more”, fulfilled the Scripture that the Child of Mary would die as One for them all.
This is only a speculation: Jesus’ Mother and Step Father may have eventually told Him what had happened on the day of infamy in Bethlehem. The Lord Jesus Christ taught as a man:
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
The Lord became a child to make us His children and so we are; as it is written in Galatians 4:4-7: our adoption as the Lord’s sons and daughters. The Child gives the childless hope, the loveless love, the faithless faith, in the great exchange: His health for our sickness, His love for us His enemies, His wisdom for the foolish to make us His own, His death for our life, His resurrection for our eternal life, so we are born again, His baptized to receive children, from day 1 to the 100th year, in His Name, baptizing them, as we have been by His grace alone, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.