Friday, December 28, 2018

In Christmastide, The Feast of the Holy Innocents

From today's Gospel:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him." 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son." 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping [for] her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more." Matthew 2:13-18, NKJV
"The Feast of the Holy Innocents", a day of which I became aware of very early on in my faith's journey, at the tender age of six.  Back then, it stood in sharp, harsh juxtaposition between the tenderness of the Nativity of Christ Jesus and the Barbaric world that the Logos of God was was born into.  The cries of Mary in the throes of labor were contrasted by the weeping of Rachel crying for her sons who were no more.  At six years old, it was a frightening story, but one that was devoid of personal context or reference.  Today, I can sigh and say that I've heard "Rachel weeping" far too many times.  I've heard this in a mother's wail, whose son had just taken his own life.  I've heard this in an anguish of a grandmother, whose grandson's life was extinguished in an automobile accident.  Both of these specific examples involved those young men who were created in the Imago Dei, in the Image of God, whose lives were taken out of season by the archenemy of the Almighty.

I've encountered skeptics who, when faced with this massacre of baby boys, aged two and under, often question why there's no "independent' account of this event outside of Saint Matthew's Gospel.  I typically offer this response.  Herod, Known as "Herod the Great" was a client of the Roman Empire who ruled the Roman Provence of Judea from 37 BC until his death in 4 BC.  While he may be remembered for his architectural upgrades to the Temple in Jerusalem, he can equally be remembered for his bloody slaughter of many in his own family, to include his wife, three of his sons, 300 of his military staff and countless others as recounted by the Historian Josephus.  From a historical sense, a few dozen toddlers in a rural village would hardly rate a footnote.  Yet for Rachel, the lifeless baby boy in her arms was her world, not a footnote.

The lamentation of this horrific event is captured in the melody we know as the "Coventry Carol", a carol penned in the mid to late Sixteenth Century.
Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, Bye bye, lully, lullaby Thou little tiny child, Bye bye, lully, lullay. O sisters too, how may we do For to preserve this day This poor youngling for whom we sing, "Bye bye, lully, lullay"? Herod the king, in his raging, Charg├Ęd he hath this day His men of might in his own sight All young children to slay. That woe is me, poor child, for thee And ever mourn and may For thy parting neither say nor sing, "Bye bye, lully, lullay."
I've included it in this version of the carol, as performed by the choir of King's College.

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