When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children (Matt 2: 13-23)
Talk about a bad ending to a Christmas celebration…..
First of all, there are some incidents in the Christmas story as the Bible tells it that are not matters of historical fact; in truth, they seem to have either never happened, or to have completely missed the attention of any one recording the events of a year. And this is such an event. There are no historical records confirming this slaughter of innocents. As a historical event, it never happened.
So, why is it here, and what can we take away from it on this day after Christmas? Well, the scholars tell us that the story is really a reflection of the importance given to Jesus by his contemporaries. It’s the Bible equivalent of remembering how special the day you met the President of the United States was. And it’s also a reflection of how much Herod was hated, that they saw he was evil enough to have done anything to have kept Jesus from growing up.
As to what we can take away — here’s what it’s always meant to me (not that I like the story; I can’t imagine anyone who actually likes this one. . . ) but when I read it, I remember that while the Light came to the world, the world knew him not. And yet, as St. John puts it, The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
No one can live to be an adult without knowing there’s a lot of darkness in the world, a lot of time when evil seems to prevail. Just lately, I’ve been reading a biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who with her husband, George VI, ruled over Great Britain during World War II. If the book does nothing else (and it’s a good book), it makes clear the horror with which she viewed Hitler and her sense that Hitlerian Germany represented ultimate darkness. I know there are people in this church who remember that war, who lost friends and loved ones, whose lives were on hold for years and years — and who yet knew the fight had to take place. The darkness did not prevail there, anymore than it prevailed in our Gospel story.
Not all darkness is so public or even so political; often it is intensely personal. A beloved spouse falls ill; a child contracts a dread disease; a job disappears. A marriage fails, a child goes down a dark path. Or even, at this season, we gather for a festive celebration of the birth of our Savior, and end up in an endless squabble about who got grandma’s earrings after she died, or whether or not the gravy should have giblets in it — made all the worse by the painful truth that Charlie’s been in the gin again.
It’s the dark time of the year, and we’re all about to be snowed in — at least that’s what the forecasters say — and this story is here to remind us that even in the midst of the worst life has to offer us, there is always that light, that glimpse of something better. There is always that sense that, within the Christian community we are trying to be that loving community which shows forth the Light. Sure, we fail from time to time, and sometimes we lose our way. But the Light is there, shining in the darkness. And the darkness will NOT overcome it.