Saturday, 28 December 2013

Holy Innocents, and the Dangerous Herod Boys

So a friend was telling me a story. About a woman - a Christian - who was catching a train. But due to some unlikely coincidence - or, as I normally call them - coincidence - she missed it. The train went on and crashed, killing everybody on it. So the woman was saved, because she was a faithful Christian.

I did ask my friend if he had any information as to the state of regeneration of the people who did actually catch the train - given this story was based in the United States I was guessing there might be a few Christians who actually made the departure time - but sadly he was unable to inform me.

The Holy Innocents are a reminder that the work of God still takes place in a dark world. As the tinsel and angels crowd round the manger, an evil king, scared for his succession, comes down like the wolf on the fold.

We get the discussions about whether this story is true. There seems little point arguing with it, if you accept the Gospel stories as true in general. It's consistent with everything else we know about the Herod family. It was likely to be quite small in the scale of genocides - maybe 20 or so baby boys. It's not that different to what we see in our own lifetimes, across this still-dark world.

It just cries out, for me, a question about God's action in all this. Herod's acting completely to plot. This is what Herods do. This is what all vicious, suspicious dictators, from Tiberius Caesar to Kim Jong-un, do. You might even, if you were to put on your Reading Glasses of Hermeneutical Suspicion, see some parallels in the way kings David and Solomon act when they come to power.

But what is God doing here? Just the one family - his own, if you like - get the warning. All the others - nothing, or maybe a dream that is ignored. So the God-child gets away, apparently so he can fulfil a Hosean prophecy, while the others die - the first witnesses to Our Lord, in later tradition.

But like the dictators, God also has form here. After all, as the Egyptians were killing the Hebrew babies, there was one who snuck through, hidden in a basket. As the children of Jerusalem died at the hands of the Babylonians, just a remnant survived. This is not a bug. It appears to be a feature.

The Powers that Be caught up with him in the end, of course. The job Herod's men failed to do, Pilate's bunch managed later on. Maybe some cursing Jesus around the cross - old men now, of course - were among those who couldn't catch the King of the Jews 30-odd years earlier. Satisfied to see the job finally done. The final Holy Innocent.

And that's where the odd part of the story - the one I trust in, though I can never quite understand it - cuts in. The bit where God says yes, I didn't save all the kids n Egypt - and a lot of innocent Egyptian babies died, too, don't forget. And I didn't save the babies in the fall of Jerusalem. And I didn't save the Holy Innocents. And in the centuries to come, this theme will repeat itself - again and again.

But here, where the might of the evil Roman army has pinned me, where my own people's leaders have betrayed me - where the Herod family have let me down, yet again - here I share in all the other senseless deaths. Here I take part in your senseless death. And if I join you down there, I'll drag you back up with me.


  1. Were you divinely inspired by this morning's Thought for the Day? is the Lord, as ever, moving in mysterious ways?

  2. Thought for the Day is God's way of telling me I should be listening to 5 Live. So, no.

  3. Thought for the Day is God's way of telling me I should be listening to 5 Live. So, no.


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