December 28: Holy Innocents

Almost entirely unknown today, in the church, not to mention the world, is this day, set aside in the historic church year to honor the memory of the baby boys slaughtered at the hand of Herod’s troops in the town of Bethlehem. If you recall, when Herod heard from the wise men that one had been born King of the Jews in Bethlehem, he commanded troops to enter the town and kill every male child. The slaughter of children deemed inconvenient or an obstacle to the fulfillment of personal ambitions or plans continues today, of course, in the slaughter that is abortion.

A prayer for this day:

Lord Jesus Christ, in your humility you have stooped to share our human life with the most defenseless of your children: may we who have received these gifts of your passion rejoice in celebrating the witness of the Holy Innocents to the purity of your sacrifice made once for all upon the cross; for you are alive and reign, now and for ever.

Here are some other thoughts from another source.

Pfatteicher (Festivals and Commemorations) associates
these three “heavenly birthday” celebrations with the birthday of
Christ: “as he was born into this world from that, so they were born into
that world from this” [p. 464].

These three festivals are also sometimes distinguished by:


St. Stephen — a martyr in will and deed


St. John — a martyr in will, but not in deed (the only
    apostle not to have been martyred)


The Holy Innocents — martyrs in deed, but not in will.
    “Although the Holy Children … were not believers and were unaware of
    the reason for their fate, they were killed for the sake of Christ, and in a
    sense in place of him, and the church by the beginning of the third century
    recognized them as martyrs” (Pfatteicher, p. 470).


If these festivals are celebrated, they help us quickly move
from the sentimentality of Christmas and a “cute” baby, to the dire
costs of discipleship.

As a general theme, life after Christmas is not all that
sweet. Following the birth of Jesus there is anger and murder, weeping and
wailing, moving and resettling. After our wonderful Christmas celebrations we
are again confronted with the fact that the kingdom has not fully arrived. The
“peace on earth” sung by the angels (in Luke) is followed by death and
destruction, suffering and evil. Salvation for Joseph and his family meant
hearing and believing the word from God and then doing them.

There is also great irony in this section. Chapter 1
proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God — Emmanuel — God with us, but now we
see “God with us” fleeing for his life. We see the “savior”
needing to be saved from Herod’s anger. Two thoughts from this
“reversal”: (1) It is an indication of the “emptying” of
Jesus who comes as a suffering servant, rather than a powerful god. (2) For
Matthew, Jesus “needed” to do these things to fulfill OT prophecies.
Jesus comes “to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). He comes to do what
God requires of him and not to fulfill his own desires.

Matthew 2 indicates two responses to the revelation about
Jesus — Gentile Magi come to worship the child. The Jewish king, Herod, seeks
to destroy the child. It is important, especially in Matthew, to recognize that
it is not all “the Jews” who reject Jesus. It is likely that in
Matthew’s Christian community, there were many Jewish converts. At Jesus’ birth,
it is King Herod who seeks to destroy Jesus. At his crucifixion, other Jewish
authorities seek to destroy Jesus. In both cases, they are unsuccessful. Jesus
is taken away for a time, then is brought back.

A connection between our text and the passion is made with
the word apollumi, which is used of Herod’s desire to
“destroy/kill” the child in 2:13; and chief priests’ and elders’
desire to “have Jesus killed” in 27:20. Another connection could be
with empaizo. This word is used to refer to what the Magi do to Herod in
2:16 (“tricked” in NRSV); but its four other uses refer to Jesus being
“mocked” by others (20:19; 27:29, 31, 41) at his crucifixion. This
text pre-figures the crucifixion/resurrection event.

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