Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the innocent martyrs of the time of the Lord’s coming into the world, those children below the age of two years old in the town of Bethlehem, the place where the Lord was born over two millennia ago according to the prophets. Those children were killed by the order of the king of Judea and Galilee then, king Herod the Great.
King Herod heard of the star that appeared over the town of Bethlehem from the three Magi who was on their way to find the star, and the king asked his advisors and the priests on the matter, who confirmed with him how the signs all pointed out to the coming of the Messiah prophesied in the Scriptures and the Torah, as the prophets had all proclaimed Him and spoke of the time and circumstances of His coming.
King Herod became afraid of the news of the coming of this Messiah, Whom the Jews believed to be the descendant and therefore Heir of king David of Israel, the once powerful and mighty King who ruled over all the people of Israel. According to the prophecies, the Messiah would restore Israel and rule over David’s kingdom and sit on his throne as his rightful Heir, and God would make His reign forever secure.
Instead of welcoming the coming of the Lord and True King of all as prophesied, king Herod succumbed to his fear, his anger, his jealousy, his desires and greed, his hubris and ambition, as he was often known for, and sought to destroy this King before He could become a threat to his own power and kingdom. That was why he sent the troops to destroy the King, ordering them to kill all infants and newborns aged two and below.
For us to understand even more clearly in context of what happened, we must also know that king Herod himself was a usurper of the righteous king, who before king Herod’s ascent to power, was the Hasmonean kings of Judea, the descendants of the Biblical Maccabees. The Maccabees as described in the Book of Maccabees led the rebellion against the tyranny of the Greek Seleucid kings and eventually won independence for the Jewish nation, and their descendants eventually became kings.
King Herod belonged to the Idumean people, a non-Jew himself, coming from the desert regions bordering both Judea and Arabia. He came to power by riding on the coattails of the Roman Republic, who under one of its generals, Pompey the Great, came to conquer the provinces and territories of Syria, and eventually, through political manoeuvres, overthrew the Hasmonean kings, and the reign of king Herod the Great was established.
Thus, all these historical facts coupled with the many grandiose projects king Herod undertook, such as the rebuilding and expansion of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, expansion of the city of Jerusalem itself and building of new cities such as Caesarea and also buildings named in his own honour like the Herodion, showed how insecure king Herod was, and how much he desired power, glory, fame and worldly honour.
That was why, he acted in such an evil and wicked manner, to preserve and protect himself from his supposed ‘Enemy’, the King Who was to come and born in Bethlehem, by killing all the innocent children hoping that this King would be killed alongside the other children, without any regards for the sanctity of human life and just how wicked that action had been in the eyes of God and men alike.
Then we may also be wondering, why God allowed such a great tragedy to happen? Why did He allow the innocent children to be slaughtered? Surely He could have done something to prevent it? But this is where then we must understand that while God is all powerful and mighty, He also gave us all, each and every one of us free will and the freedom to choose what we are to do with our own lives.
King Herod chose freely of his own free will to commit such a heinous and evil action, and his abuse of the freedom that God has granted him, the authority and power entrusted to him therefore is the culprit behind the evil deeds and all the sufferings suffered by the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem and their families. This is a classic example of how power and earthly glory can corrupt and lead us into sin, if we allow them to overcome us.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the tragedy of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem was not the only tragedy that happened in this world. So many wars, conflicts and all sorts of actions had happened throughout the history of mankind and civilisation, because men chose to abuse the freedom and the privileges given to them by God, misusing the power and authority entrusted to them to satisfy their own needs over the sufferings of others.
And we ourselves may also be to blame for this, as surely at some point in our lives we have also acted in manner that cause others to suffer for the sake of our happiness and enjoyment. If we want to blame or look down on King Herod for having committed such a terrible evil and crime, perhaps we may want to look at ourselves first before that. Have we ourselves lived worthily in our faith? Have we acted in ways that bring glory to God and happiness to everyone and not just to ourselves?
Let us all reflect on this even as we rejoice in this joyful Christmas season. Let us seek to make our Christmas celebrations meaningful and filled with the true joy of Christ and not the fleeting joy and greed of the world, the same greed and desire that brought king Herod and so many other sons and daughters of mankind into sin. Let us all turn away from excessive attachments to worldly pleasures and desires, especially in this Christmas time and season, putting our focus and attention back on the Lord, our God and Saviour.
May God be with us always and may He strengthen each and every one of us in our faith, so that we may resist the temptations of pride, greed, hubris, ambition, and all the things that often led us to sin, to manipulation and the harming of others. May God bless our Church and the world today, that true faith in God may triumph over the greed of mankind. Amen.