29 December – Holy Innocents of Bethlehem

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We learn of the Massacre of the Infants of Bethlehem in Matthew 2:16-18.

The Holy Family fled to Egypt, escaping to keep the newborn King safe. We heard yesterday that the Magi followed a star that led them to Jesus. The Magi encountered King Herod who was afraid of Ballam’s prophecy coming true.

The star appeared to the righteous and pure in heart and hid from those who would have destroyed the prophecy. Jesus had come to become the new lamb but his time had not come yet to be sacrificed. In Hymn 24 on the Nativity, St Ephrem explains:

“The glorious star of light was not like John (John came before Jesus to announce him)

for there was a place where it rose and made straight the way for the simple, but there was a place where it sank and made the path of the wolves go astray.”

Fearful of what Herod could do, the Magi agreed to not go back to inform him of the newborn king and his whereabouts’. However, Herod learnt from the Magi the time of the birth and ordered the death of all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years and under.

Matthew also tells us that the Massacre of the infants was a fulfilment of the prophecy of 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.”

Joseph was instructed to leave to keep his new family safe. He led his wife Mary and newborn baby to Egypt, where they remained until hearing of Herod’s death. As we learnt in the Revelation to Joseph a few weeks ago, there is a parallel between Joseph fleeing to Egypt with the Holy Family and Joseph son of Jacob being sold into slavery and also being sent to Egypt.

The early church fathers, especially Matthew, interpreted the stories such as those of the Magi and the flight to Egypt in light of Old Testament prophecies. Christians understood the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures (the Septuagint) to be a sacred text that contained types and figures pointing to the coming of Jesus as Messiah.

The Epistle for today also gives us another type of Christ who had been hidden in Egypt – Moses. In the beautiful Epistle we hear:

“By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter,

choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward.

By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible.

By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days.

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.” Hebrews 11:23-31.

This letter to the Hebrews would have been well understood by its audience. Clearly the parallel with Moses is a sign that Christ is the saviour.

The Holy Family became refugees. Seeking refuge away from home and fleeing danger.  The Holy Family remind us of the many refugees arriving in various countries. Today we pray for refugees, who flee their countries and leave everything behind seeking a safer place to live. We also pray for compassion for those countries receiving them.

We also pray for defenceless children and ask the Innocents of Bethlehem to intercede for them, including the unborn, children in the midst of war, children in the midst of family violence, famine, drug abuse, poverty, slavery and sexual abuse and exploitation.
Christina Maksisi