Summary: The death of the innocent children in Bethlehem tells us much about evil in the world, and what we can offer the non-believers.
The Holy Innocents (The Eve of)
Does Evil come from God, or from Us?
Preached at Saint John the Evangelist, Cold Lake
Octave of Epiphany, Evening Prayer, 10 January 2002
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, whose children suffered at the hands of Herod, receive, we pray, all innocent victims into the arms of mercy. By your great might frustrate all evil designs and establish your reign of justice, love and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
As I started to put thoughts together for this commemoration and celebration of The Holy Innocents I tried to find an upbeat aspect of the readings. There has been a lot of discussion about evil and horror these past few months, and I wanted to put a positive light in this homily. Well, after much reflection, I accepted that there are few ways you can paint the slaughter of young children in a positive light. But what we hear in the readings tonight, horrific and depressing, does have some important messages for us as a community of believers.
The story of the nativity leads us to the mystery revealed through the eyes of the Magi on the Feast of Epiphany. We come through this wonderful season and are drawn up short tonight, on this Holy Day – The Feast of Holy Innocents. The birth of our Saviour and His flight into Egypt are underscored in blood by Herod’s slaughter of all boys under the age of two.
Up until this point, the Christmas history reads much like a child’s bedtime story. Our eyes are filled with love and wonder at the message of the angels proclaimed before the shepherds. In the gospel reading Saint Matthew takes us from the journey of hope with the Magi, a journey that ends with us kneeling in the manger, offering ourselves our souls and bodies – all we are – before the Christ child, to Jesus, Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt to escape the hate, fear and unrestrained evil of Herod. And as the Holy family escapes, as they run away from this horrible act to save our Lord, those baby boys left behind are killed by Herod’s troops.
This event carries with it some interesting lessons for us. We are a hopeful people, we Christians. In our worship and our lives we often kneel before Christ to offer our praise and gifts to the glory of God. We are consecrated as a people in service of the Lord; this is the reason we are here. There is no greater mission for a believer than to do his Father’s will. The problem is that we can become separated from that holiness, can feel that warm enveloping embrace departing from us – much as we sometimes leave our families and travel far away for extended periods. The way we become separated from God is through sin, or (as my Grandfather would say) our ‘pigheaded stubbornness’ and unwillingness to do what is right. That closeness is lost through our unrepentant sin. As Christ fled before the evil of Herod, we can all too easily separate ourselves from God.