(If this day occurs on the first Sunday after Christmas,
please refer to that devotion instead.)
Exodus 1:8-22; Matthew 2:13-18
Holy Innocents, Martyrs
Again we look to the “Church Calendar” to see if this might be a special day to commemorate a special event – and it does. December 28 is given to another group of martyrs, even before Stephen – a group so young and innocent that we shudder to think such an event could have happened. But it did. This day is given to the memory of the “Holy Innocents.”
You are familiar with the story. We will celebrate the visit of the Magi on Epiphany (January 6), but we must briefly rehearse the event here. On the night of our Lord’s birth, magi in the East (actually, pagan astrologers) saw an unusual phenomenon in the heavens which they understood to be of divine origin. Through that same guidance they discerned that the “star” signified the birth of a great king in Judea and set out on a long journey to pay him homage: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Herod (also known as “the Great” in history for his grand building projects) was not amused. A paranoid and decrepit old man by this time, he ascertained from the magi when the star rose, explaining that he too wanted to see the child. The magi saw right through this lecher, went and paid their respects to the babe, and then departed by another route. As the magi refused to return to Herod to inform him of the identity of the child, Herod had all the male children in and around Bethlehem murdered up to two years old, so as not to miss this rival toddler to the throne.
And so, because of a murderous old man, several mothers were bereaved of their baby boys, who “refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” We are enraged at the injustice of this heinous crime. We plead with God, “Surely this was not necessary!” It seems to ruin the whole account of our Lord’s birth. The Bible is painfully honest about the evil that is in men, and in doing so boldly places the mirror in our faces. What happened that day in Bethlehem happened before with the genocidal policies of Pharaoh and has happened numerous times since. But what is the meaning of this day? I think that day foreshadowed, even prophesied, the event some thirty years later of our Lord’s crucifixion. As the innocents gave their lives for Jesus, they anticipated the day when he would give his life for theirs. This is the beauty of our faith: it is a faith of life-giving sacrifice whereby one loses his life to save it (Mark 8:35). Our Lord’s sacrifice is the once-for-all, never-again-to-be-repeated exemplar. But these holy children died in the faith they had yet to understand, and in so doing received their heavenly reward.