Today we remember the Holy Innocentsthose infant boys of Bethlehem who were slaughtered at Herod’s command in an attempt to snuff out the young life of Jesus.We all like the Christmas story: the story of angels proclaiming peace on earth and good will toward men; the story of shepherds gathering to pay homage to the new born babe. the story of magi coming from the East to present the Christ Child with precious gifts.
The political machinations surrounding the nativity of Christ, however, are an aspect of the tale we tend to forget. Or if we do remember it, we focus on the flight to Egyptyes, Herod wanted to do terrible things to the baby Jesus, but God intervened, sending the Holy Family off to Egypt before the tyrant could act.
But while Jesus was saved from death, countless others were not. Back in Bethlehem, infant boys were torn from their mothers’ arms and slaughtered in cold blood. Given that tragedy, how can we in earnest sing that Jesus’ birth heralds “peace on earth” and “joy to the world”?
That’s the question underlying a deeply moving essay by Karl Persson entitled “The Shadow of Christmas.” “How can this be good news?” he asks. “How can we sing that song? Is our faith no more than a clash of kings, where we celebrate how the Chosen Onethe Messiahescaped, with little thought for the innocent victims caught in between? Is the kingdom of God just another ‘game of thrones’? What kind of miracle would it take to redeem such a story?”
What kind of miracle, indeed? It’s a question that Persson spends the rest of his article attempting to answer. “Jesus’ protection in Egypt is not simply an act of nepotism for a favourite son,” he explains. Instead, the child is saved “because the suffering reserved for him is greater.” “The weeping of Rachel must be answered,” Persson writes, “and He will answer with His blood.”
The picture of the Bethlehem mother distraught over the slaughter of her infant son will be mirrored as Mary observes her son die upon a cross. And here at last the sorrows of Bethlehem’s mothers and of David for his dead sonsand of Job for his dead childrenare finally answered. For here death itself is overcome. “And indeed, how could Rachel be answered otherwise?” Persson writes. “What mother would be satisfied with anything less than the unworking of her child’s death? Rachel refuses to be comforted, because comfort is not what she wants. She does not want comfort; she wants her children.”
It’s the story of Bethlehem’s mothers. It’s the story of David, grieving his dead sons. It’s the story of Job, mourning the death of his children. And it’s our story toothe story of all of us who grieve and weep and mourn.“We, with Job, waitstill with the tears of Rachelfor the time at the end of the eschaton when every tear will be wiped away,” Persson writes. “That time is not yet, and so there are still tears. There are tears, and it is Christmas. But thisthis hopeis why we can sing. Not because there is no suffering, not because there is no Rachel, not because there are no slaughtered innocents, whose blood indeed cries out in their feast during the season of Christmas. No, it is not because these things are not, but because HeChristis.”
I urge you to go and read the whole thing.