Fourth Day in the Octave of Christmas (Feast of the Holy Innocents)
Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and it seems to be incongruous with our Christmas joy. Jesus has only just been born when we hear that trouble is on his heels, and a massacre follows. Innocent lives are lost at the hand of a wicked tyrant, and the reader of this text beholds the very first martyrs for Christ.
In addition to the tragedy this story describes, what it also signals is that, from the first moments of his earthly life, Jesus is already unsettling those in positions of power who are unwilling to acknowledge that he is Lord. Jesus is only a few days old, yet he strikes fear into Herod’s heart. This text, then, is not only a harbinger of things to come in its foreshadowing of the many martyrs who will follow the innocents celebrated today. It also foreshadows that, for all of his establishing a new order and a new relationship between God and human beings, Jesus disrupts the existing order considerably during the course of his life. This occurs not only in his adult ministry, but in his infancy as well. Jesus makes those in positions of power and authority uncomfortable by his very existence.
And yet, we would be mistaken if we thought that this message of provoking discomfort was only for those in the upper echelon of our society, and not also for ourselves. Although we do not stoop to slaughtering innocents, we do get too comfortable, both physically and spiritually, and in so doing unwittingly prevent Jesus from doing his work in the world. One way to put the message of Christmas, the message of the Incarnation, is that God can show up in the most unlikely of places. The almighty God, creator of the universe, has become human. This extraordinary claim is heard as folly to those who are too comfortable with their conception of God. Those who presume to know in advance what God can and cannot do remain closed to this startling, disruptive claim.
In this season of Christmas, we are called to attend closely to the story of God become human, to remain open to the disruptions it will bring, and to live our lives in response to what God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ.
Dr. Mark McInroy
Associate Professor, Theology Department