It’s the Fourth Day of Christmas. In the midst of all the festivities and feasting we have the Massacre of the Innocents. Yes, you did read that correctly. It used to be people could not read. Now people do not read, so the church does whatever it takes to get in teaching opportunities. (Well, that is a little facetious, but you get my point, even if it is the Fourth Day of Christmas.)
The most evil of the four Herods was king when Jesus was born. He was notoriously ruthless, killing anyone, including three of his own sons, at the mere rumor of threat to his throne. So when the three Magi showed up looking for the newborn king of the Jews whose star they had seen, Herod’s paranoia was on high alert. What? A baby born to be king of the Jews? And since there might have been some lag time between the birth of this baby and him receiving this news, he had every male child under the age of two killed in the area surrounding Bethlehem.
Matthew, the gospel writer whose purpose was to establish the Messiah lineage and fulfillment of Hebrew prophecies surrounding Jesus, is the one who mentions this horrific event. Even the renowned first century historian Josephus doesn’t record it. Nevertheless, it is consistent with Herod’s personality and behavior.
THE VISIT OF THE WISE MEN
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
The Massacre of the Infants
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” ~ Matthew 2:1-12, 16-18
We should not be surprised at the possibility of Herod’s horrific actions. Infanticide and genocide are still carried out today. We’ve all read accounts and seen pictures of the atrocities carried out against humanity today, as well as over the centuries. We cannot, we must not, forget that it has happened, it is happening, and we have in our power – with the help of God – to keep it from happening.
[Gracious God], receive our prayer of tears and sorrow over those children consumed by a world that holds no regard for them. We pray for children left hungry and thirsty, left to fend for themselves on the streets, left to be abused by poor, twisted souls. In your mercy receive our prayers of intercession for children around the world. Amen. ~ from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.