Summary: Christmas, the Massacre of the Innocents, and Abortion.
Sermon: Aborting Christmas
Text: Matt 2:13-18
Occasion: Holy Innocents
Who: Mark Woolsey
Where: Providence REC
When: Sunday, Jan 21, 2007 (which is really Epiphany III)
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable n Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Zachariasï¿½ vision, John the Baptistï¿½s birth announcement, Zacharias muted, ancient Elizabeth pregnant, the Annunciation, the Magnificat, a virgin with child, John the Baptist ï¿½genuflectsï¿½ in utero, Johnï¿½s birth, a tongue loosened, the census imposed, Bethlehem visited, Inns full, the stable birthing room, Jesus born, the feeding trough, an angel army, shepherds run, circumcision, Simeon rejoices, Anna evangelizes, ï¿½3 wise guysï¿½ worship, Joseph dreams, and a family flees. There. I think Iï¿½ve presented the whole Christmas story in one sentence, having listed every significant event. And yet, I left one thing out. Iï¿½ve left a hole in Christmas. Christmas isnï¿½t complete without it. Not only did I leave it out, but itï¿½s left out of almost every Christmas play & every nativity story, sacred or secular. Although today there is a minor feast to commemorate this event, at the time it originally happened, it was probably the most intense few hours of the sequence. Itï¿½s pathos rivals that of the culmination of Holy Week, and it reveals an aspect of the Christmas season that comes out in no other way. When incorporated instead of ignored, it corrects serious misconceptions in our celebrations. It moves Christmas out of Sunday school and into the dark alleys & tough places of life. If this season were a movie, including this scene would change the rating from "G" to "PG-13" or "R".
Of course, the missing event in this Christmas litany is the slaughter of the innocents at the order of King Herod. It comes to us in the Book of Common Prayer as the collect and propers for "The Holy Innocents".
II. King Herod
King Herod does not come down to us as a name of honor in spite of the fact that heï¿½s often called ï¿½the Greatï¿½. You might be surprised to find out, then, that he came from a pious family. Although neither his father nor mother was a Jew, his father worshipped the Jewish God. His father was also a friend of some high-placed officials in Judea, and sided with a Roman faction in their successful struggle to gain control over the area. In return he became the ï¿½power behind the throneï¿½. He started his son Herod on his political career, getting him appointed governor of Galilee at 16. In the beginning Herod even gained the favor of the people by going after bandits that were terrorizing the area. However, his political life became a soap opera, rising and falling from power until finally he was forcefully installed by the Romans as King Herod. He executed some fantastic building projects, including the Temple in Jerusalem where our Lord worshipped, and which Jesus even called His Fatherï¿½s house. However, one online encyclopedia (Jona Lendering, http://www.livius.org/he-hg/herodians/herod_the_great01.html) relates concerning Herod that:
With building projects, the expansion of his territories, the establishment of a sound bureaucracy, and the development of economic resources, he did much for his country, at least on a material level. The standing of his country -foreign and at home- was certainly enhanced. However, many of his projects won him the bitter hatred of the orthodox Jews, who disliked Herodï¿½s Greek taste - a taste he showed not only in his building projects, but also in several transgressions of the Mosaic Law.
The orthodox were not to only ones who came to hate the new king. The Sadducees hated him because he had terminated the rule of the old royal house to which many of them were related; their own influence in the Sanhedrin was curtailed. The Pharisees despised any ruler who despised the Law. And probably all his subjects resented his excessive taxation.
And so it was all downhill from here. He was married 10 times, killing at least two of his wives and two of his children out of paranoia over his throne. King Henry VIII of England has nothing on him! When a teacher and some students tore down the Roman eagle which Herod had attached to the temple, he had them burned alive. Worse, when he realized he was not much longer for this world, and that no one was particularly distressed by that, he had the heads of all the prominent families come to his palace. Once there he imprisoned them and ordered his sister to put them all to death upon his own demise so that there would at least be some form of mourning in Israel when he died. Fortunately she did not carry out this last wish. It was THIS Herod to which the wise men came, looking for the new king that was born. Although there is no corroborating extra-biblical evidence concerning the Bethlehem baby bashing, it is entirely within the character of this evil man.