Feast of the Holy Innocents
Persecution followed Christ, even as a young child. The holy days following Christmas drive that point home.
Joseph is the silent hero of the story in today’s Gospel. He has another angelic dream and responds with action. He well could have questioned, “Wait, I thought this child was supposed to deliver us, to save us. Why do we have to flee?” But he did not. He got up, took Mary and Jesus, and moved out. Simple faith in action. His silent witness is a high calling for us to imitate.
This passage also quietly testifies to Christ’s humanity. If the infant had performed some miracle to ward off those sent to destroy him, it would be hard to say that Jesus was fully man. Not only on account of the miracle, but also because that would have required the young child to have far more awareness than children do.
The early Church Fathers fought against heresies that held that Jesus was not fully man because the scriptural accounts show his humanity. Aside from his miraculous conception, he gestated for 9 months in the womb just like you and me. He was delivered just like you and me. He was nursed and raised like every other child. Christ fully entered into our humanity from the start.
But, God did protect him. He warned Joseph in a dream and left it at that. The angel did not take them to Egypt. The angel did not even accompany them, as far as we know. Joseph and Mary undertook a journey that was probably financed by the gifts of the magi.
So what about the dead children left in Bethlehem? We may be quick to cast blame upon God, but the blame is not his to bear. Herod, of his own free will, gave the order and his soldiers carried it out. Herod had ample reason and opportunity to be true to his word to the magi, but instead of going to worship the newborn king, he ordered the slaughter of all the young boys in Bethlehem in a fit of maniacal rage.
Is this unjust? Absolutely, on Herod’s part. But what about God’s? On no account. What can man do to us as children of God? He can either administer due punishment for our offenses against man and God or he can add to our rewards in heaven. Peter exhorts us, saying, “For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval.” (I Peter 2:20)
It is plain that God foreknew, because the prophet foretold. But what lasting harm came to the infants? They were crowned as the first martyrs of Christ. They advanced to the throne of God to sing his praises. We become troubled because we focus too much on this life to the exclusion of the life to come. Let us keep eternity in mind, seeking our union with Christ in glory.