The Holy Innocents and Rachel

holy innocentsThree days after Christmas, the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Innocents. Innocent children under two years of age in the surrounding region of Bethlehem were murdered at the hands of Herod, king of the Jews. Afraid that a babe was born who would threaten his kingship, Herod ordered them slaughtered. Historically, the numbers are unknown, though for Matthew the evangelist, this fulfills two prophecies: One from Hosea and another from Jeremiah. (The gospel reading for this day is Matthew 2:13-18.)

holy innocentsWhen the magi had departed, (behold!) the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea).

holy innocentsWhen Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time during which the child-king might be born, which he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.

holy innocentsWe are all Rachel, our sobs echoing in Rama, inconsolable in our confusion and anger as our tears fall into the blood of lost innocents with no understanding to be had. Our sobs are melodies, our sighs and heaving are the rhythms, and our hands holding our broken face rocking back and forth is the dance to the song that a Christian life will be. This is not our time to understand.

At times, we are Herod, out of jealousy, calling for the persecution of those who threaten our self-proclaimed majesty. Someone threatens to outshine the jewels in our own crowns, because deep down we know that there’s more luster to dry brittle thorns than any emerald can contain, because we heard the truth in Rachel’s song.

holy innocentsAnd then, we are just here. We see Herod and we see Rachel. Hopefully, we can simply put our hand on Rachel, and just be with her.

Today, our prayers go out to all families who have lost a child. We mourn with you. We don’t pretend to understand, but hope with you that, as God said to Rachel, “the sorrow you have shown shall have its reward” (Jeremiah 31:16).

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