The Massacre of the Innocents by Angelo Visconti (1829-1861)

Today’s Bible reading

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:16-18

More thoughts for meditation

The fourth day of Christmas honors the memory of the Holy Innocents, all of the young boys slaughtered at the command of King Herod when he hoped to kill the newborn Jesus.

Herod “the Great,” king of Judea, was unpopular with his people because of his connections with the Romans and his religious indifference. So he was insecure and fearful of any threat to his throne. He was a master politician and a tyrant capable of extreme brutality. He killed his wife, his brother, and his sister’s two husbands, to name only a few.

Herod was “greatly troubled” when magi from the east came asking about where the “the newborn king of the Jews” might be whose star they had seen. They were told that the Jewish Scriptures named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah would be born. Herod cunningly told them to report back to him so that he could also “do him homage.” They found Jesus and offered him their gifts. Then, warned by an angel, they avoided Herod on their way home. Jesus escaped to Egypt.

Herod became furious and “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” The horror of the massacre and the devastation of the mothers and fathers led Matthew to quote Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children…” (Matthew 2:18). Rachel was the wife of Jacob (Israel). She is pictured as weeping at the place where the Israelites were herded together by the conquering Assyrians for their march into captivity.

On the 4th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Four Calling Birds  [This is the 1909 American version.  Earlier English versions have “colley birds” or black-as-coal birds.  There are other versions as well.]

The spiritualized version of the song says this secretly stands for the Four Gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who told the life and ministry of Jesus from birth to death to resurrection. The word for church in Greek is, essentially, the “called out ones.” The fist believers (like the gospel writers) were “calling birds” called out to build the church.

 Suggestions for action

Pray: Help me not to give up weeping for the children.

Like it happens so often with United States leaders, Herod called out hatred based on fear. What resulted was a military action that killed children. His action was as astounding a scene as the picture of children in cages along our border or pictures of starving children who are the first to experience the impact of climate change.

In juxtaposition to such a horrible memory, this day includes a call from the gospels to see Jesus, the holy innocent, who takes away the sins of the world. To whom are you listening? To what are you called? In what death-dealing action are you complicit?be it a blow to your own innocence or the sacred heart of other? For what are you calling? Today is a good day to meditate on those questions.