Today the Episcopal Church remembers the “Holy Innocents,” the subject of the “Coventry Carol” so often heard at Christmas time. We remember the slaughter of “every make child two years and under” by King Herod because of his well documented ego and paranoia. Afraid that the “newborn King of the Jews” would usurp his throne, he had the children killed to eliminate his competition.
While in all likelihood, the children suffered little (a swift death is often merciful), the agony of the parents is without parallel. Even though I do not have children, I have been assured by members of my own family that there is no greater loss to be experienced than the loss of a child, regardless of their age. In many ways, the death of one’s child upsets the natural order – children are to outlive their parents – or so it is our common wisdom.
The fact remains that infant mortality has declined greatly in our society. The great pandemics (influenza, typhus, cholera) seem almost non-existent to most of us. These diseases claimed many innocent lives only two generations ago, before the advent of modern antibiotics. Nonetheless, while the death of children may have been more common and even expected, the sense of loss is no less poignant.
The message of this day, however, is that out of such horrible suffering, God can change things. Even though these parents suffered such tragic and profound loss, God delivered the Christ Child by a dream message to Joseph, who took the Child and his mother to Egypt to escape the tyranny of Herod. When the Child returns, he will be the salvation of the world and proclaim a kingdom of justice and truth that would outlast any attempt by Herod to assure his own power.
That hope must be ours today – as many children suffer needlessly because of greed, prejudice, and the lust for power in nations throughout the world. We listen to the promise of Christ and carry the message of his kingdom into our world. If we remain faithful to its values and its promise, we, too, may see the “mighty cast from their thrones” so that the lowly, the powerless and voiceless innocents of our world might then be “lifted up.”