A few verses in Matthew are all that are granted to the tragedy of slain baby boys following the birth of Jesus. Christian Churches in the west have memorialized Herod’s paranoid panic as Holy Innocents’ Day, celebrated historically on December 28th, the fourth day of Christmas. In Medieval England, children were awakened to the solemnity of the occasion with a whipping. The Reformation effectively put a stop to the observance, but in Mexico the Feast of Holy Innocents is still celebrated as a mid-winter April Fool’s Day.
Consistent with our tendency to gloss over the unpleasant portions of Scripture, the church today skims quickly over the tragic tale. All the same, I’m wondering if that’s really an honest approach when 2017 has seen so much senseless carnage of innocent children. There are children in famine-stricken Sudan, starving under the Khartoum regime. A dozen or more children have been shot and killed in pews and in their car seats here in the U.S. in the random violence that has characterized 2017.
Tricked out of a positive identification of his rival by the stealth of the wise men, Herod reduced a precious population of baby boys to a disposable demographic: male child, resident of Bethlehem and its districts, two years old and under. Herod’s extreme measures to protect his power from a child who might grow up to dethrone him is a theme we’d rather not think about at Christmas time.
Perhaps the early darkness of this season here in the Northern Hemisphere is the ideal setting in which to pause from our seasonal hoopla and allow our hearts to enter into the sadness and the grief that accompany the violent loss of a child. I find myself wishing that the weeping women of Ramah could have somehow joined the company of those who “sorrow not even as others who have no hope.” With tears foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, it is unlikely that even one of those bereaved mothers ever realized that her boy child died in the place of the Savior of humanity so that Jesus could live and die in the manner God had ordained.
God’s economy is strange to us, and even if those Palestinian mums had been privy to the rich theology behind the survival of the one and only two-year-old whose parents had been warned in a dream, I have no doubt that there was not a mother in the lot who wouldn’t have traded all that promise of righteousness, all that prophetic fulfillment for one more day with her boy. Is there ever an era or a set of circumstances in which a bereaved mother does not sob ragged to frame these words:
Why my child?
Why not some other?
Let’s give the gift of prayer and support to those who grieve the loss of a child this Christmas season. As a mother of four living sons, I do not claim to understand the depth of truth behind Jeremiah’s cruelly accurate prophecy that they “will not be comforted,” but I do know what I have read from authors like Nancy Guthrie and Meadow Rue Merrill who have experienced the loss of a child and written about it. Their experience schools me in the truth that in spite of hopeful expectations, grieving mothers in Texas and Sudan will not soon be comforted:
Not by time.
Not by the kind consolation of thoughtful words.
Not by the probing questions — thinly veiled queries, which, over the years
will come to revolve around a single theme:
“Isn’t she over this yet?”
Let’s weep with them as they wait for their hearts to heal. Finding no ready answer to the evil in the world let’s discover that their suffering — all suffering — creates a space in which we wait for the deep comfort promised by another ancient prophet:
Healing for the brokenhearted.
Consolation to those who mourn.
We wait for another coming of Jesus, and we long for the hearts of grieving parents to find reconciliation with God through His Son so that shortly after these brokenhearted mothers see His face, they will see, once again, the face of their child.
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