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Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Innocents

“Rachel weeping for her children, And would not be comforted,
because they are not”

There is no more disturbing and troubling image than the deaths of the little ones whether as here in the witness of the Scriptures or in the horrendous pictures of the suffering children of the world – in Calais, in Aleppo, in Kenya and elsewhere. We live in a world where children are not only commodities but collateral damage in the pursuit of power and dominance. There is no innocence, it seems.

There is blood in Bethlehem. To be sure, we have already seen blood, as it were, in the martyrdom of St. Stephen who was stoned to death confessing Christ and in imitation of the sacrificial sufferings of Christ. But that was in Jerusalem. Here we have the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, as they have been called, in Bethlehem, killed as a policy of infanticide in Herod’s effort to eradicate a potential rival to his kingdom. Herod’s policy to kill all the little ones, two years and under in Bethlehem, echoes the policy of infanticide by Pharaoh to control the population of the Hebrews in Egypt out of which came the birth of Moses. Thus we are made aware of a deeper theological idea, the idea that God and God alone can make something good out of the machinations of human evil.

“Never that which is shall die”, a famous fragment from the Greek poet, Euripides, avers. In a way, the Christian story both challenges and confirms his poetic insight. Christ, the everlasting Son of the Father, comes to redeem and save by dying for us. His rising to life again though is testament to the greater power and truth of God who ever is, the God who negates the negation, as it were. The death of death itself is accomplished in the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Never that which is shall die” because it dies and lives again for it is what lives forever. Love conquers all because love never dies.

This is all part of the dark mystery and wonder of the disturbing Christmas feast of the Holy Innocents. They are innocent because in truth they are unable to harm and yet they are seen as a threat to Herod just by virtue of being infants like the child king sought by the Magi. They are already viewed as in Christ and that is the deeper wonder that redeems the horror and their slaughter. Their deaths, like the deaths of the little ones throughout history, are not without meaning. They share in the infancy of Christ and so in the purpose of Christ’s coming.

The Collect expresses all of this in very direct ways, ways that have often been difficult for many to grasp. “Thou madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths” is a hard truth, and yet a necessary truth for it speaks to the evil of our world and day, the evil of our political obsessions and the lust for power, to the envy and fear that accompanies all authority which forgets that it has no power except it were granted by God.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents confronts us with the realities of suffering, of death, and of sorrow. There are real victims of the miscarriage of justice, of the perverse abuse of power then and now. The grief of mothers mourning the loss of children is a constant and a never-ending cry. It convicts us of the world of evil and wickedness and even our own helplessness in the face of the horrors of war and devastation. There are innocent victims. But The Feast of the Holy Innocents is not a celebration of victimhood for that is a negative. No. The Feast of the Holy Innocents is about our participation in the full meaning of Christ’s Incarnation. It teaches us about the love which is never-ending and thus reaches back to the deaths of these little ones and makes them partakers of Christ’s passion even as it reaches forward into the horrors of our world and day, the horrors of war and the destruction of “the inconvenient ones” in our culture.

That is why we have the reading from The Revelation of St. John the Divine which powerfully suggests that they, too, have followed the one who is the Lamb, the sacrificial Lamb of God, and they are the “redeemed from among men”, “being the first-fruits unto God, and to the Lamb”. “They are without fault before the throne of God”.

This is the great comfort that alone counters Rachel’s inconsolable grief at the loss of her children “because they are not.” They are in the love which always is, everlasting. “Never that which is shall die” because we live again but only in the love which is now and always. This is the love which comes down at Christmas into our sorry and sad world, the love which redeems us to God and to his eternal fellowship.

“Rachel weeping for her children, And would not be comforted,
because they are not”

Fr. David Curry
The Feast of the Holy Innocents, 2016