Holy Innocents

Published 6:36 pm Monday, December 28, 2020

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By Scott Baker

I write this on Dec. 28, also known in the liturgical calendar as the feast of Holy Innocents. It is a day in the calendar set aside to commemorate the needless death of countless children in and around Bethlehem just after Jesus’ birth. It is described in the gospel of Matthew in the following passage:

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’” (Matthew 2:16-18)

These children were slaughtered at the hands of a villainous despot who was cruel and amoral. The senselessness of the slaughter, and the pain that ensued, has not lost any of its sting in the 2,000 years that have passed. Some might just call them collateral damage at the hands of an occupying ruler. Others would simply call it for what it was: senseless murder. Regardless of how one might characterize it, after this year of COVID, I think it’s safe to say that we know a little more intimately about senseless and arbitrary death.

I can think of no more fitting day than today to reflect on the tragedy that this year contained. From the struggle for racial justice and equality sparked by the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, to the countless and needless deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of this writing the United States of America has recorded over 330,000 deaths due to the Coronavirus. Some experts project by the time the vaccine has saturated our society, there will be many, many more thousands of deaths.

It seems strange to pause in the middle of the great 12 days of Christmastide celebration to commemorate the death of countless children at the hands of a despotic ruler. However, regardless of what kind of year we’ve experienced, we know what it means to live in a world where senseless and seemingly random acts of violence and death occur. Taking a moment to pause and offer our pain and sorrow to God can be a healing moment and a time of much-needed solace. By means of honoring those who have died, I offer the following prayer from the Book of Common Prayer for your consideration:

O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered: Make us, we beseech thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of life; and let thy Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days; that, when we shall have served thee in our generation, we may be gathered unto our fathers, having the testimony of a good conscience; in the communion of the Catholic Church; in the confidence of a certain faith; in the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope; in favor with thee our God; and in perfect charity with the world. All which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. The Book of Common Prayer page 489.


Father Scott Baker is pastor of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Contact him at 757-562-4542.