In the church year there are particular days set aside to commemorate saints and martyrs. The color of the day is red which evokes memories of blood spilled and of faithful testimony empowered by the Holy Spirit.
December 28 is the day of “The Holy Innocents, Martyrs” who are the children who were slaughtered as Herod in a fury tried to kill the newborn king by having all of the children in the vicinity of Bethlehem who were two years old or younger killed.
For this week’s devotion we will linger around this ghastly story leaning hard on the promises of Romans 8:28 that God can work all things for good for those who love him and are called according to God’s purpose.
15 Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. 16 Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; 17 there is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country.
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "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."
It is hard to read this account of the destruction of life in the wake of political and social struggles. Clearly these children posed no threat to Herod. The one who would eventually completely upend the political, social, spiritual and many other structures of this world, Jesus, was easily delivered from this brutal and ill-conceived attempt on his life. In his rage and vain imaginations Herod was the cause of the suffering of great many innocents and their families.
It is hard to read this account of the destruction of children and not have our minds drawn back to the Passover. At the end of a long period of political and social struggles there was a leader, Pharaoh, who was not able to yield and let the people go. Because of this circumstance the firstborn males of all of the households of Egypt, and the animals, were slain. The spilled blood of the Passover lamb serving as a sign of deliverance on the doorposts of the Jewish people has been connected with Jesus’ blood spilled on the cross.
Jesus didn’t escape dying at the hands of a broken and corrupt political machinery. He just delayed it for 33 or so years until the time was right. He could have been delivered by legions of angels if he so desired in the garden of Gethsemane but he persisted. In our rage and our vain imaginations we, people then and people now, were the ones who led Jesus to the cross and shouted “Crucify Him!!!”
The world still struggles with realms of power and corruption and politics. As people vie for recognition and power and influence many lives are wounded and destroyed. Corruption and influence peddling cost incredible amounts and are paid by the tragic currency of preventable diseases running rampant, malnourished bodies finally yielding to death and people living in abject poverty. As the vain imaginations of rulers and would be up-and-comers and hyper-consumers go to work the vulnerable and the young and the relatively innocent pay severely.
Jesus comes into this world to break this cycle. Jesus reminds us that how we treat the “least of these” is how we treat him (see Matthew 25:40). Jesus has come to dismantle realms and structures that slaughter or permit the demise of the young and the vulnerable. Jesus came to set us free. Jesus has work for us to do that involved caring for those still ensnared in how we do politics. Will the weeping of Rachel stir us to action?
God, teach us to see in Jesus—this baby of Bethlehem who grew into the deliverer of all who would come—a call to take up our own crosses. Stir us to be moved with Rachel and to let your Holy Spirit stir us to action that pleases you and alleviates suffering and untimely death in this political and broken world. Amen.