Friday, December 28, 2012

The Feast of the Holy Innocents

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 2:17,18

December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Dating back to the fifth century, this feast day commemorates the slaughter of all male children under the age of two as ordered by Herod, the Roman appointed King of the Jews.  Every year in the Christmas story, we hear of this action as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. It is often given only cursory attention. The Coventry Carol recalls the tragedy of “Herod the King, in his raging/ Charged he hath this day/ His men of might, in his own sight/ All young children to slay.”  Usually I do not dwell on that aspect of Christ’s coming into the world.  When I do think about it, I think of how horrible an event like that would be, but I don’t let myself feel the pain of such a slaughter.  After all, it is Christmas – a time to dwell upon the joy and the wonder of the season.

This year, however, the death of the innocents came all too close to home. We could not help feeling the pain and the loss when the news came of 20 young children in Newtown, Connecticut being shot in their class room by an unstable man with a high capacity assault rifle. All of the children were 6 or 7 years old. For days the news of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School filled our TV screens. The President visited the town and spoke to the community and the nation at a prayer vigil for those children and adults who lost their lives. Funerals were held and the nation mourned along with the Connecticut families whose children were taken away in an instant.

This year, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown has given us a different perspective. We have been forced to realize that while we celebrate the coming of light into a world of darkness, we still live with much darkness.  We speak of the wonder of Emmanuel, “God with us,” while we are forced to ask ourselves were God was on this day.  For me, because of the truth that God is with us, then God must be here suffering with us, as God does with each daily tragedy somewhere in the world. We who are living are left to ask ourselves what we will do in light of this suffering to make our world a safer place.

Much has been written in recent days dealing with these very questions of how could this happen and what can we do now? While the story recalled by the Coventry Carol at Christmas can be neatly explained by an evil king with an army at his disposal, our tragedy is not so simple.  Rather than wringing our hands and saying,  “Oh, how evil this is,” we must address the systemic flaws in our country that make us more susceptible to gun violence than any other industrialized nation.  Many innocents died this December because we have a woefully inadequate mental health system, and we have woefully glorified the use and ownership of guns. These are problems that can be addressed if we have the courage to change our ways.

Here are a few articles that have been written in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy:

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For this liturgical day to call to mind the Holy Innocents, here is a prayer from the church liturgy:

A Prayer To The Holy Innocents

Holy Innocents, you died before you were old enough to know what life means, pray for all children who die young that God may gather them into His loving arms.

Holy Innocents, you were killed because one man
was filled with hatred, pray for those who hate that God may touch their hearts and fill them with love.

Holy Innocents, you experienced a violent death, pray for all who are affected by violence that they may find peace and love.

Holy Innocents, your parents grieved for you with deep and lasting sorrow, pray for all parents who have lost young children that God may wrap a warm blanket of comfort around them.

Holy Innocents, those around you certainly felt helpless to prevent your deaths, pray for all who feel helpless in their circumstances that they may cling to God for courage and hope.

Holy Innocents, you who are now in Heaven, pray for all of us that one day we may join you there to bask in God's love forever.



1 comment:

  1. such a poignant post, it seems humans have not advanced much at all, have we? We really do repeat our past, when will we ever learn?


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