Toward a Sensitive Observance of Holy Innocents Day 2017

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.
Beauty.
Joy.
Praise.

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.


Photo credit

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Weeping Woman of Ramah

(Matthew 2:16-18; Jeremiah 31:15; Isaiah 61:1-3)

There was no angel appearance to my husband —

No timely warning granted for us to flee the danger and death of Herod’s sword.

Know that I, too, would have fled.

I would have flown to the ends of the earth to dodge the flash of steel that ended my young son’s life, snuffed out to satisfy the jealous angst of a paranoid king.

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,
in Bethlehem and its districts,
two years old and under.

 My son.

Yes, my tears were foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, and the Messiah survived to live and die in the manner God had ordained.
(Is it ironic only to me that my boy died in the place of the savior of humanity?)

God’s economy is strange.

I would never have removed a creature so fine as he before his time.
There is a great hole in the universe now.

But I am a daughter of Deborah, a woman of the Covenant, and I know Who it is that sits at the Potter’s wheel, Who molds the clay.
I am the work of His hand.
My son was also His vessel.

God is building His kingdom; I know this in my head.
But I am a mother, finite, and I see through a glass darkly.

And I would trade all that promise of righteousness, all that prophetic fulfillment
for one more day with my 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?

I do not understand, and Jeremiah was cruelly accurate in his prophecy,
for I will not 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
have come to revolve around a single theme:
“Isn’t she over this yet?”

Weeping, I wait for my heart to heal.

Weeping, and finding no ready answer to the evil in the world—the evil in me—
I discover that my suffering creates a space in which I wait for the deep comfort promised by another ancient prophet:

Healing for the brokenhearted.
Consolation to those who mourn.
Beauty.
Joy.
Praise.

I wait for another coming of this Jesus, and I long to believe,
for I know
that shortly after I see His face,

I will see, once again, the face of my boy.

_____________

A few verses in Matthew are all that are granted to the tragedy of slain baby boys following the birth of Jesus. As the mother of four sons, I’ve never experienced this depth of loss, and I find myself wishing with all my heart that these women could have been among those who “sorrow not even as others who have no hope.”  I love to think that there may have been those who knew from their exposure to the writings of the prophets that a Messiah would come to live and to die and to give beauty for ashes.

This post first appeared at SheLoves Magazine where we were writing for Advent 2015 on the theme “Paused and Present.”

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Image credit: Guilherme Yagui

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.