It turns out the number things to attend to before the funeral tomorrow is, well… a lot. It is, I think, because I am the parish priest and part of the family of the deceased. Thank you for understanding and your prayers.
We will not meet for services today, so as Fr. Dan Thomas says, you are welcome to share this fire from my altar.
The following was a Deacon’s Homily given at Church of Our Lady of Walsingham in Corona, California on 28 December 2003. I thought it worth sharing with you especially since we will not be together for celebration today.
A Homily for the feast of the Holy Innocents
(also known as Childermas or Children’s Mass)
A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping;
Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.
—Jeremiah 31:15 (Matthew 2:18)
Today’s festival in honour of the Holy Innocents seems to stand in sharp contrast to the Christmas season of which it is a part. It seems to be a kind of anti-Christmas. Instead of the newborn Christ-child, we hear of the massacre of children. Instead of “peace on earth, good will towards men,” we hear of envy, jealousy, and malice. Instead of shepherds and wise men hasting to the cradle, we hear of soldiers and policemen. Instead of mother Mary keeping all these things and pondering them in her heart, we hear of mother Rachel weeping for her lost children. Instead of festive white and gold, the Church and her ministers are vested this morning in red, symbolizing the blood of martyrs.
One might well ask: why interrupt our Christmas festivities with this? Why should this fourth day of Christmas not be a day of four calling birds, rather than a commemoration of murdered infants?
At Christmas we celebrate the mystery of God the Son, the eternal Word of God, becoming flesh and pitching his tent amongst us. And to be among human beings is not always to be among milking maids and leaping lords and drumming drummers; it is sometimes to be amidst squalid, brutal, and violent conditions. This is the world, and these are the people, that Christ came to earth to redeem.
Just to put these events in their historical perspective: the King Herod who was ruling at this time was the father of the Herod who executed John the Baptist and who interrogated Jesus on Good Friday. This Herod was called “Herod the Great.” He was the king of Judea, but he was not a member of the royal house founded by David; he was not even a Jew. Herod’s father was an Idumean and his mother was an Arab. He was not anointed king by a prophet, as David was anointed by Samuel; he was proclaimed king of Judea by the Roman Senate. He was kept in power mainly by the Roman army.
Like other Middle Eastern dictators of whom you may have heard, Herod was ruthless and blood thirsty. Once, when he had a quarrel with the Pharisees in Jerusalem, he had five thousand of them killed at once. He dealt swiftly and harshly with rebels, pretenders, and anyone else who might be a threat to his regime. Among those he killed were two of his wives and three of his own sons.
So we must not be too surprised at his reaction upon hearing from the wise men that a pretender to the throne had been born, a descendant of King David, one who might someday claim to be the Messiah (the anointed one). Herod, like certain other Middle Easter dictators, had no qualms about killing a thousand young children if one of them—and he did not know which one—threatened his continued power.
And so it was that the dictator and pretend king, Herod “the Great,” perpetrated one more atrocity. Herod had been tricked by the wise men, but they had given him valuable information: somewhere in or about Bethlehem was a boychild who would someday claim to be the legitimate king of Israel and Judea. He had at hand a weapon of mass destruction: his army. As the fourteenth century Coventry carol has it,
Herod the king, in his raging,/ chargéd he hath this day/
his men of might, in his own sight,/ all young children to slay.
Saint Matthew says that the slaughter of the Innocents was in fulfillment of a saying of the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping bitterly; it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” Ramah is the place-name of a hill near Bethlehem, traditionally the burial place of Rachel, the wife of the patriarch Isaac, the son of Abraham and the father of Judah, from whom the people and country of Judea took their name. (Fr. Wayne’s note: It was from Judah that Shiloh would come, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, David’s true son who would forever sit on the Throne)
The very next verse (Fr Wayne’s note: not quoted by Matthew) is this: “The Lord says, stop your lamenting, dry your eyes, for your labor will have a reward. There is hope for the future after all, YHWH declares.” And a couple of verses later: “How long will you hesitate, rebellious daughter? For YHWH is creating something new on earth.”
And this is the Christmas message: “Stop your lamenting, dry your eyes, for the Lord is creating something new on earth.” We do not any longer have to be subject to the Herods of this world; power they may have, armies they may command, atrocities they may order—but they cannot rule us any longer. We have a new king, a legitimate king, and he will rule in our hearts [and in His people].
But this is the twenty-first century. It is so very different from the first century in many ways and in many ways the same. We have no Herods—or have we? Yes – new times new faces, new circumstances. We have no massacres of children—or have we?
Herod ordered the massacre of the innocent children of Bethlehem in an attempt to suppress Christianity (quite literally, although he would not have understood the term in exactly the way we understand it). In the twenty-first century no one would some kill to suppress Christianity, except, perhaps, in the Sudan, or Nigeria, or Pakistan, or India, or Indonesia, or Red China. Christians are being martyred today in many countries all around the world.
Not in North America, of course. But what does that mean other than that the Christians of North America are not seen as a threat to the powerful of the earth?
Still, in North America, there is an ongoing massacre of children. There is an Eastern Orthodox tradition that says that Herod killed fourteen thousand children in a few days; but the number was almost certainly lower than that. In the United States alone, there are on the average around three thousand babies killed every day. And they are killed because, like the infants of Bethlehem, they are inconvenient. They are a threat, not to a king’s grasp on power, but to their parents’ convenience—or to willfulness, masquerading as “choice.”
And, within the last few years, there has arisen the threat of a new massacre. Children will be sacrificed for the good of that most powerful king of the twenty-first century, Science (driven by cruel humanistic compassion.) Children will be killed so their “stem cells” can be harvested and used for experiments or as medicine for their elders.
The twenty-first century is at least as barbaric as the first century. (Fr. Wayne’s note: It is indisputably the cruelest, bloodiest century in the history of mankind. The first large pogram was the Armenian persecution which began in 1915.)
But the saddest truth is that, unlike Herod, we have known the Christ-child. But he has not come to rule in us, or in our country. But we have not made Him King and Lord of us or our nation. Other kings (or pretend kings) rule in his stead: money, power, prestige, greed, envy, jealousy, hatred. The true king has come into his world, and the wise men have seen his sign and have come to worship him; but the pretend kings wage often ruthless war to keep him from his [rightful] throne.
And so, in Ramah, the voice of Rachel is still heard, still weeping for her children, because they are no more.
And yet, the Christmas message is still there, still calling to us: “The Lord says, stop your lamenting, dry your eyes. . . . For the Lord is creating something new on earth.”
Hope it was worth it!
Remember there are two collects for today. The Christmas Collect to prayed throughout the Octave of Christmas and the Collect for today’s feast which I include here:
O 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; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.