How can one continue to say Merry Christmas on a day that remembers the Holy Innocents? We remember today the baby boys that were slaughtered by King Herod in his attempt to eliminate the Christ child. It is the fourth day of Christmas, but it feels more like a day for penitence.
There are so many wonderful stories in the Christmas saga that we love to hear. We love the story about the sheep, the shepherds, and the angels above them, singing “Glory to God in the highest.” We love the story of the shepherds going to the stable and visiting the baby Jesus who is lying in a manger. We love the story of the wise men with their gold and frankincense and myrrh. These are wonderful Christmas stories that bring joy to our hearts
But so quickly the story turns ugly and evil. Christmas Eve is such an idyllic, holy night, but it is followed so quickly by chaotic, profane evil. Herod the beast, Herod the murderer, became insanely jealous for his own reign, and he decided to murder all the baby boys two years and under. The mothers began to wail in pain. In one moment, we hear the beauty of the songs of the angels from heaven, and before the week is out, we hear the wailing sounds of mothers whose children had been slaughtered by soldiers. And so Mary and Joseph need to flee from the murdering soldiers to Egypt, into hiding for two years. By then, the cruel and insane Herod finally died. But King Archelaus rose to power in the southern region of Jerusalem, and so Mary and Joseph traveled up north and settled in Nazareth. The whole story of the first Christmas starts off so beautifully but it quickly takes an ugly detour.
The Holy Innocents intrudes upon these joyous days to remind us that God came to confront the reality of evil and sin. Jesus was not born into an idyllic, peaceful world, but into a very real world of sin and death. The good news for us, however, is that the “light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” For that reason, we can continue to say, “Merry Christmas.”
We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by order of 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 and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (Lutheran Book of Worship)