Why an Overlooked Part of the Christmas Story is Still Important Today

The Day of the Holy Innocents is a time to pray for peace and justice everywhere.

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Posted in , Dec 18, 2019

Wise men and Day of Holy Innocents

It sticks out there in between all the happiness of Christmas and the celebration of the New Year: the Day of the Holy Innocents, December 28. If you’re like me, you forget that it’s even on the calendar. And in fact, like most of us, you forget that it’s even part of the Christmas story.

One year, when I had a particularly vociferous group of Sunday Schoolers, and we were preparing for the Christmas Pageant, I told them, “You’d better watch out because if you’re not good, I’ll cast you as the Holy Innocents.”

They looked up bewildered at me. This wasn’t exactly like being told that Santa would only bring them bags of rocks and twigs if they weren’t good. And who exactly were the Holy Innocents?

It’s an episode of the Christmas story that’s so easy to skip. We all remember Herod and the wise men, and how Herod’s advisors told the wise men just what that star in the East meant and just where they’d be able to find this new king.

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From all historical reports, King Herod truly was a violent, capricious, unruly monster and his jealousy was aroused—his sure willingness to do something violent to anyone who would usurp his powers. Give presents to this newborn king? A poisoned chalice more likely.

But Herod didn’t have a chance. The wise men were warned in a dream not to return via Jerusalem and not to share the good news with Herod. The result? He ordered the murder of all boys aged two and younger in Bethlehem.

How many children would that have been? A few dozen, a couple hundred at the most. Bethlehem was not a teeming metropolis. But the biblical author—in this case Matthew—was making an important point. Turmoil was all around. Violence rampant. Never was a prince of peace more needed.

That’s why I am glad to be reminded of this holiday today. The only mangers most of us ever see are in Christmas creches and wise men following stars, riding on camels…that’s not part of everyday life.

But alas, we know how children can be the victims of political violence and harm. We can read about it in the news. We utter our own desperate prayers for peace. And we know they reach the One who understood from the beginning of His life on earth that wise men and women would also seek Him.

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