Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Giotto Slaughter of the Innocents Scrovegni Chapel, Padua c 1305

Among the great joys that will occupy our minds with family and friends celebrating the coming of the God-child, we will all bear significant sadness in our hearts for the families agonizing over the loss young children at Sandy Hook. Curiously, The Christmas season reminds us that such things don’t catch God by surprise nor foreign to His own experience. Evil—-even the most unspeakably obscene—-is not new. In fact, senseless slaughter is a key part of the otherwise joyful Christmas story.

When Christ, the God-child was still a toddler one man was hell-bent on slaughtering hundreds, if not thousands, of precious, deeply-loved toddlers and infants. His name was Herod, seeking annihilation of a new born King out of sheer jealousy. To make sure this particular child was eliminated, Herod commanded that every baby boy two years of age and younger be slaughtered in the town of Bethlehem and the surrounding communities. It was done suddenly, without warning to either parent or child, with unbridled viciousness and violence. There was, as the scriptures tell us, widespread “lamentation, weeping and great mourning” with the families and communities “refusing to be comforted, because there are no more.” (Matthew 2:18; Jeremiah 31:15)

What might seem to us just another Sunday School story happened to real children, real families, real communities. It was demonic. Horrific beyond words. A massacre of the innocents.

It does little to comfort us today that such butchery happened in times past, even in the Christmas drama. But it does let us know that we are not alone in our mourning today. That is no small thing.

John Piper captures the reality of God’s own mourning at such evil in his poem,  The Innkeeper . The Innkeeper reflects upon the massacre of his own child with a curious visitor:

But in one year the slaughter squad
From Herod came. And where do you
Suppose they started? Not a clue!
We didn’t have a clue what they
Had come to do. No time to pray,
No time to run, no time [to save my son.]

Only time to see
A lifted spear smash through his spine
And chest. He stumbled to the sign
That welcomed strangers to the place,
And looked with panic at my face,
As if to ask what he had done.
“Young man, you ever lost a son?”

The tears streamed down the Savior’s cheek,
He shook his head, but couldn’t speak.

We mourn, but at least we don’t mourn alone. Our faith tells us so.

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles