Today is the day Catholics remember the Holy Innocents, the babies and toddlers murdered by Herod as he sought to destroy the newly born King of the Jews the Magi told him about.
Today's Gospel reading, Mt 2:13-18:
When the magi had departed, behold,the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by nightand departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod,that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son.
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.
The flight of a young family to avoid the murder of one of its members, the murder of innocents to appease a tyrant's vanity, followed by the grief of Israel's mothers. It's another one of those Precious Moments that distinguish this sweet, sentimental season.
And something to think about if you ever hear Christians accused of being unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky types. In the three days after the most purely joyful, happy of our holy days, we celebrate the feast of a man who was stoned to death for preaching the gospel of Christ, the feast of the beloved apostle who stood and watched the bloody, tortuous killing of his Lord and friend, and the feast of a bunch of murdered babies. It all sounds pretty real-world and gritty to me.
But, as is alluded to in the other reading from today's liturgy, the Christ child is the light in all this darkness. (Which, incidentally, is a metaphor that I suspect had a lot more power for ancient peoples. It is harder for us who can instantly have light flooding our surroundings anytime we want it to appreciate the idea of light in darkness, although some of us Americans in the Katrina-affected areas may be a little more appreciative of it than we were before--when there is no power anywhere in your town, it gets very dark at night and you are pleased to have even a small light to let you see where you are going or where those strange noises are coming from.) Yet at the end of His (earthly) story, there is a horrible, humiliating death waiting; the Christmas tree leads to the cross, as it were. It's hardly in good taste. But there it is.