In the Godly Play enrichment lesson entitled “The Mystery Of Christmas,” older children are introduced to a part of the Christmas story that is often left out.
“It’s no wonder people do not tell this part,” the storyteller says. “It’s too sad. It’s called the Massacre of the Infants.”
Yet, our texts today will not allow us to forget the terrible killing of every baby boy under the age of two in and around the city of Bethlehem as a result of Herod hearing the Good News of the Christ-King born in the land of Judah …
… nor to callously ignore the heart-rending cries of anguish from mothers unable to be comforted as the sons that had nestled so snuggly in their arms are suddenly no more.
This is no warm, sentimental story;
but a brutal intrusion into the love, the joy, the peace
which so epitomises the natal scene –
a stark reminder of why the Light of Life
came into the world;
and of the depths of depravity and fear
that lurk within the human heart.
It is a tale which needs to be told following the heights of angel-visitation and shepherd-worship and magi-generosity lest we romanticise the Good News to the point of it being unbelievable or irrelevant to a world in pain.
This sad story which no one really wants to remember (let alone tell) is, in fact, key to the power and the purpose of the incarnation for it reminds us that right from the start, God – in taking on human form – immersed godself fully in our fragility, our vulnerability to those who have power over us, and our tumultuous up-and-down experience of life …
… born among the animals because there was no room for him, no welcome among his people …
… now the inclusion of the prophecy of Jeremiah regarding the sounds of weeping and mourning in Ramah would have reminded those listening to the Gospel story of the place through which their forefathers had passed on their way to exile in Babylon; the reference to Rachel, the grandmother of Ephraim and Manasseh, of the unassuaged grief of the Northern Kingdom of Israel being wiped out …
… then the country of exile to which the holy family flees in response to an angel’s warning is none other than the one in which Moses too found sanctuary as a baby before having to fight for his people’s freedom ….
Before he was even old enough to utter a word, the Word was
that there might, one day,
be hope for our future
in spite of people who do atrocious things
because they are selfish,
because they are frightened,
because they are desperately trying to hold on to an illusion of power and control.
It may be difficult for us to empathise with the man who would order the slaughter of innocents in order to protect his crown, but the truth is that when we are acting from a place of selfishness or fear or the need to control, we often inflict damage upon other people through our words and the way that we act towards them.
In today’s imagining, try to picture what was going on in Herod’s mind and heart as he heard the Magi’s tidings about the Christ-King … as he waited day after day for them to return only to find out that they had deceived him. Reflect on situations in which you have felt similar emotions and how you acted from them.
What word would the grown Christ-King offer Herod? What word does he offer you?