It's now the fourth day after the nativity of Jesus, and our story turns amazingly dark. You might think our story comes from the 24 cable news cycle. Breaking News: All Children Two Years Old and Younger Slaughtered by Their Ruler! We struggle to believe this story is in scripture, but it is The slaughtering of holy innocent children, because the ruler feels a threat from a baby. Sound familiar?
Regrettably, we know of stories in our day of the killing of innocent children in horrible ways. Children are killed by drone strikes, starved to death, and conscripted into guerrilla armies. Children in United States suffer unspeakable hurts, as well. We have a child welfare system overrun with children who have been neglected, abused and ravaged by monsters. Just three miles from my home is the intersection of I-435 and Metcalf Ave. That intersection has the "distinct honor" of being the place where more children and young people are bought and sold in the human sex trade in the entire metropolitan Kansas City area.
The early church chose to remember these children in Matthew 2 as martyrs, but they also did something else. When they remembered the children as martyrs, they "balanced the remembrance of Herod's cruelty with an understanding that God through Christ stands victorious over all evil and rewards those who have suffered unjustly for Christ. Early authors portrayed the Innocent Infants as playing with palms and crowns before the heavenly altar or as having joined the blessed choir of martyrs. On this basis the Innocent Infants were not to be pitied" (Lester Ruth, For All the Saints, 38).
Our children are subject to drive-by shootings, and to open and free abortions. Many of our children do not even have the opportunity to be children, but let us not forget the deep, deep love of God for them. He will carry them into the arms of peace, even as we are unable or, at times, unwilling to protect them. This story also reminds all of us of our responsibility to speak truth to power. Children become the innocent recipients of evil, in part, because we remain silent.
The responsibility of the family of God is NOT to placate the state and its abuses of power. The family of God is called to voice its concerns for the innocent and defenseless. To be a person who values life means that we value all lives. Christ's coming was a coming to redeem all people. We cannot afford to be discriminating in who we wish to protect. The Church of Jesus Christ in North America sits in the place of safety and affluence. From this vantage point we may miss the desperation of those who sit in the places of fear, terror and poverty. We may even miss that some in our own nation live in fear, terror and poverty. What are we to do?
Here the words of Madeleine L'Engle might give us a viable way forward: "If the dark prophets who infuriated the people of the Establishment in their own day have anything to say to me today, it is through their constant emphasizing that God is so free of his own creation that he can transform us in our pain into a community of people who are able to be free of the very establishments which are formed in his name. For these establishments inevitably begin to institutionalize God's love and then he teaches us (put my tears in your bottle) what love really is--not our love, not what we want God's love to be, but God's love. This love is not like our love" (Love Came Down, 72)
And so we pray: We remember this day, O God, the slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem. Receive not the arms of your mercy all innocent victims of hate and injustice, and empower us by your Spirit to take our place within your rule of justice, love, and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP)