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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18 thoughts on “Toward a Sensitive Observance of Holy Innocents Day 2017”
Michele, this is one of my favourite posts you have written! This is a part of the story we often gloss over, and it’s certainly not easy to understand, but I think it’s good that we remember it. Thanks for your sensitive and thought-provoking reflections here!
Lesley, thank you for your encouragement, because I paused for quite some time before scheduling this piece to see daylight. We’re not all that comfortable with the “messy” stories of Scripture, and I think it’s because they remind us of the messiness of our own unresolved grieving. Thank you for entering into this story beside me.
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Thank you for this beautifully written piece. I regularly sit with an older friend, who still grieves over the loss of her 3 year old son, 65 years later. And while she knows that she will meet him in Heaven, the weight of all of those years has been heavy for her. I agree that it is so important that we acknowledge the grieving, and love those who are hurting, even as we pray for the Hope of Jesus’ coming to stir in each of our hearts.
Yes. There is definitely a unique grieving for mothers, and it seems to transcend the years. I’m not surprised to learn that you sit with this woman and share in her heavy grief. Thank you, Bettie, for sharing your sensitive heart so faithfully here.
Oh Michele, what a generous post today, friend. — I’ve had someone on my heart this week, who I only started “following” this week and don’t actually know. But, oh how my heart’s been grieving for the loss of her little one. I’ve prayed for her and her family often this week. Thank you for shining a light on this heavy topic. Bless you, friend. xoxo
I’m so pleased that the timing on this post has coalesced with the warm beating of your praying heart, Brenda. Thanks for letting the sadness of others impact you in such a meaningful way.
This story is one that we often overlook because it is so painful. But life can indeed be painful. Thanks for sharing the hard stuff with us, Michele. It is just as important as the cheery parts of the story.
I agree, and have also appreciated the way you have addressed some of the stickier parts of your own story and that of others in your busy life.
Thanks for reading, Lisa.
Thank you Michelle. Scripture has something to say to our sorrows, the deep questions and the violence of our modern society. It does us no good to whitewash everything into a stylized story suitable for a children’s Bible.
Yes, and if we allow our thinking to be shaped by Scripture, we are in a better position to deal with the “senseless”violence that surrounds us.
“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.”
When I think of this I can only think how hard we fought to keep Charlie alive in his first two years. What if we hadn’t fought that hard? What if we weren’t in a society where it mattered to keep him alive? I don’t know how a mother’s heart goes on. God’s grace and time I suppose. But it would never be the same.
Those are some scarily significant questions. So glad that you have no regrets, and I agree with you that the loss of a child would change everything going forward from that point. Sobering.
Thanks, Gail. Blessings to you.
This is an often overlooked story. Thank you for writing about it so eloquently. -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures
Blessings, Marci. Thanks for reading.
There are many painful things in the Bible that I find it hard to read about, this being one. Thank you for sharing it with us from your perspective. #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty.
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I think it’s good for us to really look at the things that are challenging for us. We learn more about God from the things we wonder about.