Today we remember the slaughter of the innocent boys of Bethlehem, killed by Herod as he tries to get rid of any possible competition, even if that competition is newly born and not likely to challenge him for decades.
The wise men arrive at Herod's palace asking where they might find this new king; they assume that the old ruler would be the logical place to start. Herod asks them to report back to him, so that he might pay tribute too. But he actually means to kill the new king.
An angel warns the wise men not to go back to Herod, and so they don't. But Herod knows they were headed to Bethlehem, and so he issues orders that all the male children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem be killed. Today is the day that we honor the lost lives of those innocent children.
We might shake our heads at this juxtaposition of martyrdom and Christmas. Like Reza Aslan in Zealot, we might discount this story since we don't read about it in historical records, as we surely would if such a mass slaughter had really happened. But historians of all sorts would remind us that such slaughters were common during Roman times.
Let us take a minute to think about the modern Herods in our world. We see no shortage of evil dictators who slaughter whole swaths of the population for a variety of reasons.
Let us take a minute to think about the Holy Family, transformed into refugees, fleeing for their lives with just the clothes on their backs. Here in our modern world, we see no shortage of people transformed from regular citizens to refugees in just a matter of hours.
In a dream, Joseph and Mary are warned by an angel to flee. Off they go to Egypt, according to one Gospel, off they go to become refugees. At the end of this year which has seen more mass migrations/exiles/refugees than any since the end of World War II, my thoughts return to the flight to Egypt often.
Maybe we don't want to think on a huge, global scale. The human brain was not meant for such horror. Some of us become immobilized. But we could help refugees on a smaller scale.
There's always money that we could donate, but maybe we want a more hands-on project. We could make school kits or personal care kits for groups like Lutheran World Relief. Many of those kits will go to refugees. For more, go to this part of the LWR website.
It's also a good day to consider the ways we are Herod. How do we lash out to protect ourselves? We may not literally slaughter a whole town of babies, but most of us could do better at nourishing the next generations: the kids in our churches, the students in our schools, the younger folks in the work force.
Today on this feast day where we remember the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, let us recommit ourselves to love. We can also resolve to help those who are harmed by the Herods of our world. We can resolve to let love rule our actions, not fear.
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