The Massacre of the Innocents
Yet again, the Angel of the Lord comes with messages in dreams. The background story, we know. The Magi had followed a star in the night sky, arrived in Jerusalem and asked, ʺWhere is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.ʺ (MT. 2:2) Herod became deeply troubled by this inquiry. For him it meant that at that moment, in some obscure village, a child was born that would one day end his power. He tells the Magi, to go to Bethlehem and find the child, and then to return and tell him where the child is, ʺso that I may go and do him homage too.ʺ But God’s plans would not be hindered. The Magi are visited by the Angel in a dream and warned of Herod’s intent. They left for their countries by another way. Then, the Angel visits Joseph in a dream saying, ʺRise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child and destroy him.ʺ (MT. 2:13) Joseph did what he was told.
Herod, realizing that the magi did not do as he had told them, rises up in a rage and orders his troops to kill every male child in Bethlehem and its vicinity that is two years old or younger. This was prophesied by Jeremiah, ʺA voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentations; Rachel weeping for her children and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.ʺ (Jeremiah 31:15)
The Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, writes of this in the first stanza of his poem ʺThe Second Comingʺ:
ʺTurning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.ʺ
This passionate intensity to sacrifice the innocent in order to continue in the life style one has become accustomed to, remains with us to this day. It is the same fear of the future that caused Herod to massacre the innocents of Bethlehem, and to order the crucifixion of Jesus on a cross. We Christians are called to protect the innocent, and to do so in the innocence of God’s unconditional love, a love that encompasses even those who have sinned against the innocent. We are to honor life with our lives. We are to model the love of Jesus to that small part of the world in which we live our daily lives. We are called by Jesus to be innocent, and by doing so, to bring innocence back into the world. If the best of us lack the conviction to do so, the passionate intensity of those who are not will continue to prevail.
Though this scripture reveals a terrible tragedy associated with the incomparable joy of the Incarnation, let us celebrate the fact that Herod’s attempts to deny the history of Salvation failed. His ʺpowerʺ and the power that is claimed by so many among us today would not, indeed, could not, and will not, prevail. Jesus lives!!!