Wednesday, 28 December 2022 : Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, referring to the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, all those innocent children and infants who were slaughtered mercilessly in cold blood upon the order of the King of Judea then, Herod the Great. This event, which happened at the when the Lord Jesus was coming into the world serves as a good reminder to all of us just what kind of wickedness and evil that we mankind can do if we let the temptations of worldly desires and greed to affect us and to rule over our lives and actions. That is why we have to keep in mind to stay away from the path of indulgence and immersion in worldly power and glory, or else we may end up falling into the trap of sin, out of which it may be difficult for us to escape.

As we heard in our Gospel passage today, King Herod the Great feared that this Messiah or Saviour coming from God to His people would supplant him and his house in the reign over Judea and all of his other territories, and hence, he considered the Lord Jesus as his rival in power and tried therefore to eliminate Him before He could become a greater threat to his rule. He tried to trick the Three Magi or Wise Men who came to him asking about directions and information regarding the Messiah, but to no avail as the Angel of God warned the Three Magi that King Herod was trying to kill the Child and hence they did not go back to Herod to tell him where the location of the Child was. Infuriated by this, and blinded by his desire for power and glory, his selfish desires led to him not to see reason and plotted to kill his Rival even if He is but just a small little, newborn Child.

Hence that was what happened, as Herod sent his soldiers to strike at all the infants in Bethlehem, all those newborn and even everyone under the age of two. We can clearly see that Herod was hell-bent on securing his reign and power. Contextually and historically, King Herod the Great himself was also well-known for his megalomania and desire to prove himself as the rightful king of the Jewish people, of Judea and all of his territories. Perhaps by understanding a bit of the history of King Herod the Great, we can better understand the motivation of the actions of this wicked man, who chose to commit such a heinous crime like the slaughter of innocent infants, the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, just so that he could secure his reign and power.

King Herod the Great was an Idumean, and was likely an Idumean Jew, descended from the Idumeans, a foreigner tribe living near the Jews in Judah, some of whom decided to convert to the Jewish customs and beliefs. Through his machinations and his father’s work, Herod the Great would seize control of the region from the then rightful rulers, the members of the Hasmonean dynasty, descendants of the Maccabees who led the people to fight for their freedom against their Greek oppressors. Hence, as Herod seized power using means that were considered inappropriate and wrong, he was widely considered and treated as a usurper. That is why for his entire reign, Herod tried his best to legitimise his rule by his many grandiose projects and megalomania.

That was why he built the great extension and expansion of the Temple of God in Jerusalem, which construction would last for many decades even after Herod had passed away. Herod also established a great fortress in Jerusalem called the Antonia Fortress, and also a grand amphitheatre and complex called the Herodium, and a great city named after the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, that is Caesarea, to gain him support and favour from his main patron and supporter, the Roman Emperor himself. Yet, no matter what, Herod was still often seen as an outsider and usurper by many among the people, especially among the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council. It is not surprising then that Herod would try whatever he could to make himself more legitimate or acceptable by the people, and if not, by imposing his will, and if necessary, use violence.

Through this example we can see the danger of worldly power and ambition, hubris and human pride. Herod was swayed by those temptations and succumbed to them, and led him to be blind to reason, and not minding even to cause great harm and lack of compassion even for young infants and children. What we heard and witnessed is an act of desperation by a tyrant who tried whatever he could to secure his power, his ambition, his rule and power by whatever means necessary, even against God’s Law and commandments, and against common sense and human morality. That is why today’s celebration of the Feast of the Holy Innocents is a very important reminder to all of us that we must not let the same thing happen to us as well. Some of us may also wonder why God did not intervene to prevent this tragedy from happening, but that is precisely why He granted us free will, to choose between doing good and evil, and some like King Herod chose to have his free will to cause hurt and harm to others. How about us, brothers and sisters? Will we do the same too?

If we do not allow worldly temptations and ambitions to sway us, and put Christ at the centre of our lives, then it will be less likely that we can be easily swayed by worldly things and temptations. We have to be firm in our conviction and desire to keep ourselves free from those temptations and to stay in the right path shown by the Lord. And the best way is for us to follow the Lord and commit ourselves to His ways, putting Him at the centre of our lives and existence as we should. We must not let our desires, greed, pride and ego from misleading us down the wrong path in life, as King Herod’s example has shown us. We must also therefore remind ourselves this Christmas season that all of our celebrations are not about our desires and wants for pleasures and good things, but rather we rejoice because the love and mercy of God has been shown and extended to us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all redirect our focus and attention in life, that we may truly stay on the path of the Lord and His righteousness, and not lose sight on His salvation and grace simply because we fail to resist the temptation to sin, to resist the pressure of our desires and the weakness of our flesh. We have to keep in mind that God is ultimately the reason why we live our lives, and it is to serve Him and to glorify Him that we carry out our actions through life, not for our own personal ambitions and glory. After all, no worldly glory and power lasts forever, like the example of King Herod himself showed us, how after his death, his kingdom quickly fell apart and was divided and eventually absorbed by the Romans who supported his rule. The magnificent Temple that he had built was destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish rebellion merely few years after it was completed. Worldly glory and power is indeed fleeting and impermanent, but our faith in God will lead us to an eternity of true happiness and joy.

May the Lord continue to bless us and guide us in our way of life that we will stay true to the path that He has shown us and not be easily swayed by the temptations of our pride and desires. May God bless our every efforts and endeavours to glorify Him at all times, and may He remain with us and continue to strengthen us each day, and bless our current Christmas observances and celebrations. Amen.

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