Today is the day we remember the slaughter of innocent bystanders, children under the age of two years old. How this became a "festival" day, I'm not sure.
If you want to read the story, it's in Matthew, Chapter 2.
Reading the story today, I'm struck by questions and demands of God that are, I realize, probably the questions and demands of a democratized world, where we understand us all to be equal and worthy of fair play. This is not the world of first century Palestine, where I believe it was more readily accepted that some people were blessed, protected, worthy and others weren't. Such is a world with royalty and birthrights and such.
Still, I can't help but ask how God could warn Joseph to take Jesus out of Bethlehem and not warn the other parents?
Well, no matter. This is the story we have and it's likely the writer of it was simply playing up how important the toddler Jesus was. That's how mythological thinking (as opposed to the more modern historical thinking, or news reporting mindset) works.
Beyond the details of the dream warnings and successful escape of the Holy Family, this is another somewhat shocking story for the Christmas season, especially as understood by too many people, religious and secular. We have the birth of the savior, redeemer, liberator---and it's still a bloody, violent world. The Prince of Peace is despised and hunted and seen as a threat to the powerful; those who follow the Prince of Peace are likewise targeted.
And those mad with power (or simply mad) will not care who gets in the way.
Which is why we, in a democracy (writing from the standpoint as an American), must do our part to see that the powerful do not destroy the powerless. Even more, we need to help the powerful to see that their power is a mirage, an idol, incapable of making truly any more powerful than any of us.
We are all vulnerable. We are all powerless. We are all in danger of being innocent bystanders in the wars waged by those who don't understand this.
I'll close with a prayer I found on oremus.org, the prayer appointed for today:
Blessed are you, weeping God,
whose heart is pierced by the cry of the innocent.
You receive into your arms
those whose lives are wasted in violence;
You confront the powers of fear
with the confident power of love;
and you help us to stand with all of your creation
which bears the weight of cruelty and greed.
For these and all your mercies, we praise you:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Blessed be God for ever!