People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
People really need help, but may attack you if you do help them. Help them anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
To be vulnerable is to take risks. And to take risks means that sometimes losses will follow. But the children in this passage of scripture are more than vulnerable. They are also innocent. No adults can make the same claim, at least not like children. There is such a thing as bad things happening to the innocent. One of the sounds of Christmas is shouting. It is not a sound of joy, but a shout of grief and sadness. A shout when those who are vulnerable are hurt, a shout of weeping and wailing when the innocent are victimized, and those who are struggling find no relief.
Amazingly, in the providence and wisdom of God, the Lord knew we could handle the story of the slaughter of the innocent children in the middle of the Christmas story. First the wise men follow the star to Israel/Bethlehem. King Herod, the very evil king who was ruler in those days, was “disturbed” when he heard the news a king was born. Unbeknownst to Herod, the Holy family flees to Egypt. Herod became furious at the wise men, so he orders all the boys in Bethlehem and surrounding area killed that are two years old and younger. Experts who study such things guess that the total number of children killed was perhaps 20-25. It’s a very sad story. It’s been dubbed, “The Slaughter of the Innocence.”
1. Innocent children/people do suffer in this world.
2. We are called to grieve for the innocent who suffer.
3. No matter how cruel the king, the king cannot stop the plan and reign of God.
1. Innocent children/people do suffer.
The innocent children who died at the hands of Herod are considered the first martyrs of the Christian faith. A very old designation of these children is to call these babies the “bud of the martyrs.” Not blood, but B-U-D. They are little buds that have not had a chance to blossom. A bud is a beautiful picture of innocence, beautiful in and of itself, but also because of the potential. These children are the buds of the martyrs; the first of the martyrs for Jesus Christ. Today may we remember all children who are slaughtered innocently by governments and governors, by kingdoms and kings, forgotten by society. I cannotsay why it happens, but we can recognize it does happen. Not only children, but adults that suffer in ways they do not deserve.
I think of one Forest’s culminating project last year in which he studied children forced into the sex trade children. There is no explanation. I think of the orphanage in the Dominican Republic that some from the church and community are going to visit and help next June. I think of the practice of infanticide around the world. I think of Kathy’s trip to Africa last year, in which it seems like such a hollow question to ask if she enjoyed it, because it goes much deeper to hold an orphan, a flower bud, to hear the devastation of AIDS in whole African villages. And in our own communities the children, through no fault of their own, suffer and find themselves in less than the best circumstances. A few years ago I was walking in Nooksack by a house, and the husband and wife were viciously yelling things I’d never heard. And a small confused child was on the porch. Herod had 25 babies killed, no fault of their own, nothing they had done except be born.
And it’s not just children. Now I am NOT saying that men and women are free of sin, but I am saying that life is sometimes very unfair. And that’s part of the deal. The children just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Herod went nuts. It’s part of a Fallen world. Innocent children and people, through no fault of their own, suffer in a myriad of ways. The bud of the martyrs. So what’s our response?
2. We are called to weep and shout for the innocent. See the potential in the innocent. Admire the bud before it blossoms. Rachel was the wife of Joseph in the book of Genesis. In the book of Jeremiah Rachel is portrayed as the mother of the Northern tribes of Israel because she is the mother of three of the place names of the tribes: Benjamin, Mannasah and Ephraim. After the Northern tribes are destroyed, Rachel is depicted as weeping, wailing with bitterness, because they are no more. Mathew sees 2:18 those who mourn for the loss of the innocent children. Let’s be advocates for the innocent. Where there is no answer, let us weep. For those who come among us looking for comfort, we cannot always give a reasonable answer, but we can give ourselves. We canweep, we can shout in lament. We can offer a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear. We can recognize the bud that has not yet blossomed. We can provide time to heal.
I tell you a sobering story from 15-20 years ago. A woman came to me to talk. 20 years earlier she had had two abortions. The grief was haunting her. At the time she had her reasons, and by our societal standards her situation at the time made “logical” sense. But now, 20 years later, logic was trumped by a sense of loss. An innocent child. We talked about forgiveness. We talked about time. We talked about acknowledging truth. We talked about living with grief. I don’t think she ever fully reconciled the loss of her children, but she learned, she found herself revisiting her past with a round of grief now and again. Rachel…weeping for her children. The loss of the innocent. The message is to come alongside those who are hurting and struggling, those who are experiencing loss, the innocent, the vulnerable.
There is good news. We need to see the bigger picture:
3. No matter how cruel the king, the king cannot stop the plan and reign of God. I am convinced one of the important reasons God sent his son into the world as a child is to highlight the vulnerability of a child and the power of God. Not only is Jesus sent as a helpless baby, but his parents scoop him up and run to Egypt. Herod is an exceptionally evil king. I cannot remember how many of his own sons he has murdered to stop them from taking over the throne. Herod is the king that had a number of people killed on the same day he died in order to ensure there would be mourning from the people. Herod ordered the killing of the children for the very purpose of stopping the rise of another king. God’s reign cannot be stopped by a madman. What was true then is still true. We have no reason to worry about the reign of God. World events, the global economy, wars and rumors of wars will not stop the reign of God. Jesus was born in a manger. He lived a perfect life. He died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He was raised to new life. He ascended into heaven. He is coming again. And the day is coming when “every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. To the Glory of God the father” (Phil. 2). The lesson of the slaughter of the innocence: Nothing can stop the plan of God to redeem the world, not the ancient King Herod, with a reign of terror, and no King or government or kingdom or power or authority.
The purpose of this text for today, the bud of the martyrs, is to remember such children, the vulnerable, the helpless. To come alongside the innocent, to bring a measure of comfort, and a measure of dignity. To shout with grief when we must. May we be a church and a society that cares and organizes life in such a way that the vulnerable are protected. And in keeping with the scriptures, we can have confidence that in spite of the suffering of the innocent, the redemptive work of Jesus Christ is certain and true. Amen.