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The Commemoration of The Holy Innocents | By the Rev. Lucas Caine Crossland


Innocent Light 

Blessed Christmas, sisters, and others gathered here. 


I’m captivated by today’s feast, although that word (“feast”) in relation to what we commemorate today makes me a little uncomfortable. More than other days in the Church’s calendar, today is filled with tension and paradox. We are still in the joyful, Christmas season, and today we commemorate the Holy Innocents, so brutally killed by the hand of Herod, in an attempt to kill the One True Light. 


I think it’s apt that this Feast falls within the Christmas season because it is a part of Jesus’ story, and because of that, it’s a part of our faith journey too. Christmas comes every year, and there are still refugees fleeing in terror, the powerful are still threatening the vulnerable, and death still takes the innocent. The feast of the Holy Innocents teaches us about the darkness that exists in the world and how the light shines in that darkness. It’s into this world, our world, that God comes to give life. And, it is exactly into this tragedy that the Savior of the world is born. 


The trouble starts with the wise men. They let the cat out of the bag by asking King Herod, “where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” Matthew tells us that these words frighten Herod, and there is nothing more frightening than the male ego. Herod’s fear gets the better of him, as he was already unstable, and send the Wise Men on a mission to find out where this “king of the Jews” is and report back. When refusing to do so, Herod becomes enraged. So much so, that he orders the killing of innocent lives, the lives of all those born around Bethlehem under the age of two, in hopes to prevent the Holy Child from becoming King. 


But God’s providence comes to Joseph in a dream. And Joseph is no stranger to dreaming. By this point, there have been several–the first telling him not to abandon Mary, then there’s the dream we hear today. After the death of Herod, another message comes to Joseph to tell him it is safe to return home, and because of Joseph’s hesitations, another dream confirms that it’s really okay to return, but this time to Nazareth. 


While we only hear about one dream today, this particular one encapsulates all the other ones: do not fear–not Mary’s pregnancy, not even the rich and powerful king. God’s love leads us through things that we think are impossible. 


To contrast Joseph’s obedience to follow God’s will, we have King Herod. A person who defies the will of God, as told by the wise men, to follow his own desire for power. A king who has power through inflicting fear, killing those who oppose him, even family, even innocent children, and lies and cheats to get his way. He is so concerned with control and keeping his power that he will do whatever it takes, leading him to the point of tyranny.

 

The Holy Innocents are victims of Herod’s tyranny, having done nothing, to deserve the death that awaited them. And this is where the sentimentality of commercial Christmas and the actual story clash. This is where the joy of the season comes with a heaviness, because in recognizing the coming of the Light into the world, we must admit that there is darkness, that there is something that the Prince of Peace, the Mighty Counselor must rescue us from. But in the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, is exactly where we find our hope and joy. That we share the divine life of Him who humbled himself to share our humanity. 


Herod fascinates me, which may seem surprising. I so want to dislike him, which would be easy! But if we hold up a mirror, there are parts of us that try to kill innocence, running away from a truer image of ourselves. Parts of us that rebel against the will of God, choosing what is easy over what is right. Parts of us that try to prevent the good news from pervading the deepest areas of our hearts, as if we can shut God out. Parts of us that shy away from that truth, fearing we are unworthy of it’s gift. There are parts of us that try to prevent the Christ child from being born within us.


The God who made his dwelling among mortals is more powerful than those dark forces. We bear His image within us. That God took on our flesh so that we might be freed from these dark forces, these things that wish to be worshipped and bowed down to as kings. 


Our King, though, works in a different way than that. Our King’s authority and power is made perfect in our weakness. Our King subverts every concept of power that we might have because he came not to be served, but to serve. Our Incarnate God comes to us, and dwells with us, in the midst of Herod’s brutality and the suffering of those weeping mothers, in the midst of our present suffering, and flips the world upside down, to free us from sin and death by not taking the life of another, but by offering his own life.  


Despite the attempts of the darkness to actively work against God and the light, we can hope and trust that God, in only the way God knows, is actively thwarting and frustrating the designs of the evil one. God even uses us in God’s thwarting–look at the wise men! Herod did not find and kill Jesus. He did not win that day, neither will he or any Herod win, ever. 


Despite the paradox of today’s feast, we are called to live in between God’s promise and its fulfillment. God promises us a new heaven and a new earth, one where death will be no more, neither will there be any mourning or crying or pain. Until then, we rest in the fact that God came to us, born as a vulnerable human baby, and knows our suffering, visits the frightened, feeds and heals. And this is cause for rejoicing. 


This Christmas Season, we are called to birth the promise of the Christ Child’s light in our own lives, and in the world around us. And we, like the Holy Innocents, in a world that seems so dark, are called to bear witness to that Light. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

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