December 28

December 28, 4th Day of Christmas Feast of the Holy Innocents

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12, 16-18

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. 17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A cry was heard in Ramah—
    weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
    refusing to be comforted,
    for they are dead.”

Some thoughts:

     This third day in Christmastide has been observed since the fifth century in parts of the Western Church as the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a remembrance of Herod’s slaughter of the little boys in Bethlehem in a desperate effort to kill Jesus. At a deeper level, Herod was used by the devil in an effort to thwart God’s plan of redemption. God had previously communicated news to Joseph regarding Mary’s pregnancy via an angel and here again an angelic visitation in a dream warns them to leave Bethlehem because the murdering king is seeking to kill their little boy. Joseph gathers up Mary and Jesus and leaves for Egypt that very night. 

     Interestingly, Luke’s gospel refers to Jesus as a baby, whereas in Matthew’s record, he refers to Jesus as a child. He also records the visit of the magi to a house rather than an inn or a stable. There is reason to believe that Mary and Joseph may have stayed a while in Bethlehem after the census before escaping to Egypt, noting that Herod’s decree was to kill all boys under two years of age. 

     Herod, “king of the Jews,” was hated by the Jews. He descended from the Edomites (Esau’s lineage rather than Jacob’s) which meant he was not a descendant of King David. His Jewish heritage was a continual sore point and his ascent to the throne questionable. He was also despised for his collaboration with the occupying Romans. Knowing he was not accepted by the Jews resulted in his paranoia, always afraid someone would take his throne. He killed two of his wives, his brother, three of his sons, two husbands of his sister, among others, out of fear that they were plotting against him! He kept kosher law, so people said it was safer to be his pig than his son! He died a slow very painful death.

     In a similar story some 1400 years earlier, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, ordered all baby Jewish boys to be killed in a kind of prefiguring of Herod’s cruelty. Moses, the redeemer of the Israelites, was spared to lead his people under bondage out of Egypt to freedom. In much the same way, God calls Jesus, the ultimate Redeemer into Egypt for protection to ultimately lead all people out of the bondage of sin to forgiveness and freedom.  

     The reference to Rachel weeping for her children may seem odd and bears some comment. Jeremiah recorded (38:15) the people of Israel being led into exile passing by the village of Ramah on their way to captivity in Babylon. Ramah was right near Bethlehem. You’ll recall Jacob’s wife, Rachel, dying while giving birth in Bethlehem to Benjamin, one of the twelve sons of Israel (Jacob) was buried in Ramah. The idea may be that from her grave, Rachel is weeping as the Israelites, descendants of her sons pass by her grave on the way into Babylonian captivity. But Jeremiah records that the Lord tells her they will return to the homeland in these words, “Let your voice cease from its bitter weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work . . . they will return.” (Jer 31:15-16) 

     Just as the Jews would return from exile to their homeland, so Jesus would return from his exile in Egypt back to Israel. Since Rachel had lived about 800 years before Jeremiah, it is interesting that Rachel is apparently still aware of what is happening on earth. But then we have Samuel coming from the grave to appear to King Saul knowing Saul’s situation, Moses and Elijah appearing at the Transfiguration to talk with Jesus about his upcoming “exodus” from earth. It would appear in some cases at least, that people who have died may be aware of what is happening on earth to some degree. This last observation is not doctrine, just interesting and another example of the connectedness of the whole of Scripture. 

Music: “Away in a Manger” Libera              


Almighty God, who canst give the light that in darkness shall make us glad, the life that in gloom shall make us joy, and the peace that amidst discord shall bring us quietness, let us live this day in that light, that life, and that peace, so that we may gain the victory over those things that press us down, and over the flesh that so often encumbers us, and over death that seemeth for a moment to win the victory. Thus we, being filled with inward peace, and light, and life, may walk all the days of this our mortal life, doing our work as the business of our Father, glorifying it, because it is Thy will, knowing that what Thou givest Thou givest in love. Bestow upon us the greatest and last blessing, that we, being in Thy presence, may be like unto Thee for evermore. These things we do ask, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    

                                   ―George Dawson, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.205

[388/1255    31%     15v.]