Today is the day the Church remembers a somewhat obscure, Biblical event right after the visit of the Magi in the second Chapter in Matthew’s Gospel. The entire event is laid out in three verses by Matthew:
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children, she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.
Every year on the Fourth Day of Christmas the Church pauses the celebration to remember the innocent babies who were murdered by a tyrannical dictator in a rage. We remember them so close to Christmas because these babies point us to Christ; these babies died in place of the baby Jesus, who was born to die in the place of all mankind.
Given the size of Bethlehem at that time the slughter was likely limited to around a dozen children. An enraged tyrant sent armed men into a region to slaughter innocent babies. Their blood cries out to God. Our lectionary readings laid before us Revelation 6:9-11 this morning:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
We’re being asked to link the slain, innocent babies of King Herod’s rage with the martyrs of the Church. This may seem a little strange to us, but given what we know about God, it isn’t shocking. When Cain killed Abel, the Bible tells us that his blood cried out to God. God is not only concerned about the blood of the martyrs, he is also concerned with avenging all innocent blood. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that God hates the hands that shed it (Pr 6:17).
This day stands as a reminder that the Kingdom of Heaven extends in a state of perpetual conflict with the Kingdom of Earth. Earthly power structures are run by Satan (Eph 2:2-3) and these structures do not want to give ground to another King. Tyrants don’t share.
These tyrants come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, we want to limit tyrants to monarchs. However, all governmental powers are capable and quite likely to become tyrannical. The oldest lie of the serpent was that we could be like God (Gen 3:5) and anytime God grants authority to people, there is a temptation to behave like tyrants, lording over the governed rather than serving them. Sometimes tyrants wear crowns, sometimes they wear suits and ties or black robes.
Jesus is King. That meant people like Herod or Caesar are not kings. The first martyrs didn’t die for proclaiming Jesus as God. They died for proclaiming that Caesar isn’t. As the Kingdom of heaven expands, maniacal dictators and governmental authorities rebel with the power of hell. Thankfully, Jesus made some promises about how that conflict turns out.
Dear Christians, put no trust in the world system. Don’t trust the rulers, the authorities, the Republicans, the Democrats, or any other of the power structures on earth. These groups are in perpetual conflict with the Kingdom of God and they will most definitely lose that conflict.
Every Six Minutes
This day must also bring to mind to all of us the innocents who are slain by our own unjust decrees. Through his iniquitous decree, King Herod ordered a dozen babies murdered by his soldiers. The Church rightly remembers this day and names that grave evil and misuse of power. It was incredibly wicked, and though we are tempted to look away, we should name the evil for what it was.
Our current massacre of innocents makes Herod’s look like a mere flash in the pan. Herod’s wicked order cost one dozen babies their lives. Our nation’s iniquitous decrees allow for a King Herod sized massacre to take place every six minutes in our nation. Every six minutes. Sixty million babies have been slaughtered in the United States since Roe v. Wade. We look at this enraged dictator and think he’s a psychopath. And yet, we let slogans like choice or bodily autonomy rule us with a force hundreds of times greater than that king.
If we know anything about our God, we know that their blood cries out to him. We know that he is not indifferent about these precious lives. As Christians, we mourn their loss and we repent. We repent for having allowed this massacre on our watch and in the shadow of our church steeples. We repent for our apathy. We ministers of the Gospel repent for our lack of teaching on sexual ethics and God’s love for these children because these topics are uncomfortable. We repent for silencing these voices… or at least attempting to. Their blood keeps crying out to God.
We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.