On December 29, 4 days after Christmas, we commemorated King Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocent children (age 2 and under) as recorded in Matthew 2:16-18 as part of the Nativity narrative –
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.”
While we may love a sentimental and romanticized version of the Christmas story, the Bible places the birth of Christ into the midst of a fallen, violent and sometimes vile world. God enters the human condition because we need salvation from the mire of sin and death. Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds us:
“But the Epiphany story of Herod and infanticide reveals a God who has entered our world as it actually exists, and not as the world we often wish it would be. God’s love is too pure to enter into a world that does not exist, even though this is often how we treat Jesus, like we are trying to shelter him from reality. We often behave as though Jesus is only interested in saving and loving a romanticized version of ourselves, or an idealized version of our mess of a world, and so we offer to him a version of our best selves. With our Sunday school shoes on, we sing songs about kings and drummers at his birth, perhaps so we can escape the Herod in ourselves and in the world around us.” (Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Kindle Location 1096-1101)
Christ wasn’t born in a cavern so that we could have warm fuzzies during the winter solstice. Christ was born to take upon Himself the sin of the world, and to defeat the final enemy, death. That is what we celebrate at Christmas. The Nativity isn’t trying to take our minds off the world, but rather Christmas shows us that God so loved the world to give us His only-begotten son. Despite the sin and evil present in the world – or more correctly, because of it – God is born in the flesh in Bethlehem. God enters the human condition – not some idealized angelic condition, but the real world, the fallen world. Bolz-Weber says the slaughter of the innocents immediately following the narrative of the Nativity inserts reality into the Christmas story and into our lives.
“We may be used to hearing some Christians say ‘let’s keep Christ in Christmas,’ but my friend Joy Carroll Wallis wrote an essay called ‘Keeping Herod in Christmas,’ and I have to say I’m with her, because the world into which Christ was born was certainly not a Norman Rockwell painting. The world has never been that world. God did not enter the world of our nostalgic, silent-night, snow-blanketed, peace-on-earth, suspended reality of Christmas.
God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and entered our violent and disturbing world. This Christmas story, the story of Herod, the story of the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents, is as much a part of Christmas and Epiphany as are shepherds and angels.” (Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Kindle Location 1131-1136)