We pay little attention to the Massacre of the Innocents in modern Christianity.
The Revised Common Lectionary lists the verses only once in the three-year cycle— in Year A on the first Sunday after Christmas. That makes it easy to miss unless you’re one of the few attending church that day and it is read and/or preached on.
Of course, pastors like me often avoid preaching on it. After all, today’s world already has enough misery for everyone to get their fair share. And many of us are reluctant to emphasize the evil, pain and suffering in these verses during the Christmas season.
However, I am not preaching much anymore and found that these verses would not leave me alone this year. They have followed me around since Christmas Day.
After all, the massacre of innocents conjures up all too many memories from recent years—Columbine, Newtown, Parkland, and Uvalde, to name a few. At the same time, I wonder how many more might happen and then pray that they don’t.
Also, for some reason, perhaps God sent, I’ve imagined several times Roman troops tramping up to huts, their armor clanging as they walked, and the people inside growing ever more afraid as the threatening sound neared them.
The troops would kick the door open, enter, look for a child of the “right” age and summarily kill him as parents and family looked upon it and shrieked in horror. The troops would then leave the stricken family with the lifeless, bloodied child.
It all makes me want to wince and look away.
But I shouldn’t. Probably, nobody should.
Instead, perhaps we can learn something from the early church, which specified a feast day to remember these unnamed children, the first martyrs for Jesus Christ. The day still appears on many liturgical calendars, although relatively few Christians are aware of such things.
If we do take time to honor their deaths, we might also remember the truth that they had to die for Jesus both to live and to enter the fulness of his ministry. We might also add a prayer of thanks for their lives.
In saying this, I want to be mindful of most Herodian scholars who agree it is likely that this event never took place.
The thing is, it has taken place, time and again, and it still takes place whenever anyone threatens the power of a tyrant or whenever the power of Jesus Christ threatens worldly power.
Finally, at least for us in the United States, we might also supplement our commemoration of the innocents by joining in the fight to save our country from the grip of the gun culture.
We should not continue our complicity in massacres of innocents.