Saturday, December 29, 2012

Feast of the Holy Innocents

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, also known as Childermas, is a high holy day in the liturgical church year set aside to remember the innocent boys of Bethlehem who were murdered by King Herod around the time of Jesus' birth.  Along with Saint Stephen's feast and the feast of Saint John, the Holy Innocents are honored during the season of Christmastide, or the twelve days of Christmas.   

The western church celebrates the feast on the 28th of December while much of the eastern church venerates the innocents on the 29th.  It is important to note that the universal church began to honor the memory of the slaughtered innocent sometime between the fourth and fifth century.  They did this not only to decry the senseless act of infanticide that Herod ordered and to remind the church that such atrocities should never be allowed to happen again under her prayerful watch, but to re-present the reality that there is always a cost associated with following Christ.

The baby boys that were ruthlessly slaughtered in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago are now honored by the church as the very first martyrs of Jesus Christ, for they not only died for the sake of Christ, they were a fulfillment of prophecy as stated in Matthew 2:16-18.  Saint Augustine said that, "They are the first buds of the Church killed by the frost of persecution; they died not only for Christ, but in his stead."  

This morning, as I was reading a devotional in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro I came across an excellent statement that I wanted to share with you.  It reads: "Since its earliest centuries, the church has remembered these 'holy innocents' who died because Jesus' coming posed a threat to those in power.  Today we remember all the little ones, born and unborn, who are sacrificed in a culture of death that has not yet welcomed the good news of Jesus."

It is true, we live in a culture of death.  Television, movies, video games, music, gun violence, euthanasia, and abortion, are all signposts that point to our guilt as a nation for worshipping at the altar of death and the church's failure to keep watch.  In light of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, lawmakers and lobbyist are scrambling for answers and solutions, seeking to put yet another band aid on a gaping wound by making firearms the scapegoat for the moral decay instead of addressing the infection that lies at the root of such monstrosities: a culture of death.  A generation of desensitized "zombies" are being raised by television, horror movies, and video games that not only promote, but invite people to participate in virtual sex and violence, so that genocide not only becomes a daily mental and sensual reality, but also a means for entertainment and fantasy. 

The Holy Innocents is a mournful feast in which we "feed" on the sorrow of the slaughter of the innocent and call to remembrance the souls of children who have died at the hands of oppression, tyranny, greed, perversion, and convenience. It is also a time to renew our charge as the Church to stand up for those who cannot defend themselves, to cry out for justice, to demand an end to sanctioned genocide, and to earnestly pray for a cultural shift that causes death, horror, and sexual immorality to be abhorred instead of cradled. 

In the Lion, In the Lamb,

Fr. Mark



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