The Gospel. Matthew 2. 13.
At that time: the Angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying: arise, and take the young Child, and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young Child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt, and was there until after the death of Herod; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the Prophet, saying; Out of Egypt have I called my Son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth; and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the Prophet, saying: In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning: Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
I don’t have to remind you of the fact that we are still in the season of Christmastide; that period of time between Christmas Day and Epiphany during which we continue to celebrate and bask in the glow of Our Lord’s Miraculous Birth. In the course of this season of celebration, we are also given to remember the accomplishments and sacrifices of a few of the great Saints of the Church; particularly St. Stephen, who was the first to be Martyred for Christ and was one of the first seven men ordained as a Deacon, and St. John the Apostle to whom is credited the authorship of one of the four Gospels.
But today, through its selection of this particular passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel for the Mass, the Church presents us with a very different narrative, one that would seem to be at odds with the spirit of the season; the murder of the Holy Innocents.
By now we are all quite familiar with this story; Herod, the king of Judea, has been visited by three wise men (or as tradition has it, three kings) who have traveled from the east in search of the one whom their own prophecies have foretold to be the future King of the Jews. The chief priests and scribes advise Herod that the Scriptures say this King will be born in Bethlehem, and so Herod instructs the wise men where to look for this Child, and to send word when they find him.
But the wise men are told in a vision from God that Herod means to do harm to the Child. So after finding and visiting the Holy Family, they depart for home without giving Herod the information he seeks. When Herod learns of this, he becomes so angry that he orders the wholesale slaughter of all the male infants in Bethlehem and its surrounding region, in an attempt to eradicate this perceived threat to his earthly kingdom. In his self-centered rage, Herod tries to eliminate Christ.
This is the first of what has come to be a countless number of attempts by man to remove Christ from this world. This effort, which we can only assume is being inspired by Satan himself, has continued relentlessly throughout the ages; beginning from the time of Our Lord’s Birth, throughout his ministry here on Earth, during his Passion and Death, and even beyond as the Church endured persecution perpetrated by Jewish or Roman authorities.
Of course we can also see how these efforts have failed. Christianity ultimately flourished and spread throughout the world; the Gospel has, at one time or another, been preached in all nations, countries and regions of the globe. It would be easy to conclude that we have won, and that Our Lord’s words have been fulfilled when he said of his Church, “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her”. This, of course, would be a fatal mistake.
By now it should be obvious to us all that Satan’s efforts to eliminate Christ from this world have not abated, in spite of Our Lord’s assurances. We can see it in the most obvious ways – such as the removal of anything “Christian” from our schools and government facilities – and in ways more subtle – such as the perversion of the true meaning of Christmas by secular entities motivated by monetary gain.
And, in my opinion, the most terrible example of this attempt to eliminate Christ today is analogous to Herod’s crime of more than two thousand years ago; the murder of innocents. But our society has taken this evil a step further; for we do not wait for a child to be born before we decide that this young life would be “inconvenient” or, “threatening” to us; our society does not even give a child the opportunity to be born. And whereas Herod’s crime likely resulted in the murder of 30 or 40 innocents, this generations’ wholesale massacre has killed tens of millions.
We are given to know that Herod died shortly after his evil deed, and we may likewise presume to know what judgment he faced in the afterlife. How, I wonder, will we be judged for the evil perpetrated by society today: and perhaps more importantly, how will we be judged by our response to it?
But, of course, any sermon preached during this season should never be devoid of hope; for it is upon the Birth of Christ, and his Life, Death and Resurrection that all our hope resides. And so we are exhorted to learn from the Gospel account of the murder of the Holy Innocents; to use this story of mans’ attempt to eliminate Christ from the world to strengthen us and remove from us all our earthly vices and desires; to know that even in the face of the consummate evil, we have been granted the Grace of God with which we can combat and defeat the efforts of Satan.
Herod murdered dozens in an attempt to preserve his earthly kingdom. Our society has slaughtered tens of millions in an attempt to preserve our definition of “personal comfort” or even more perversely, “individual choice”. But we know that the efforts of that old deceiver will ultimately come to naught, for we have been given to know how we can turn them to God’s own purpose.
I commend to you now and throughout the year the collect for today’s Mass; Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths: mortify and kill all vices in us; and so strengthen us by thy Grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name.
I ask that you pray this prayer, not in sadness – though we should rightly be sad for the death of all innocents – but in hope; the hope that comes with this season; the hope that comes with the Birth of Christ; the hope that come with the knowledge that all Satan’s attempts to eliminate Christ from this world are destined for failure; the hope that lies in the knowledge that the ultimate victory is God’s.