The Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens (1611-1612) - Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens (1611-1612) – Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As the tinsel is packed away and the echoes of Christmas carols fade, Christians around the world observe the Feast of Holy Innocents or “Childermas.” On this day, the faithful will read the Biblical story of King Herod’s massacre of children in an attempt to murder the infant Jesus. These infant innocents are considered the first Christian martyrs.

In medieval England, Christians commemorated the day by whipping their children in bed in the morning. The custom survived into the 17th century, but thankfully has fallen away. Today, the December 28 is marked as an occasion of childhood merrymaking.

Very few American Christians actively observe this holiday in the 21st Century. But we have plenty of reasons to grieve this Innocent’s Day as people who believe in the sanctity of life from the womb to the tomb:

1) Let us mourn the innocents legally aborted each year. The estimate of abortions performed in the United States each year varies, but even the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute reports the number at more than one million. They estimate that 40 million infants are aborted worldwide each year. In addition to stealing a child’s chance at living, these procedures often have deleterious effects on the mothers who participate in them.

Abortion as it is performed today is a relatively modern phenomenon, but infanticide is as old as childbirth itself. When Christianity was beginning, disappointed parents would often kill their children by exposing them to the elements. As historian Robin Fox has noted, “Christians opposed much in the accepted practice of the pagan world. They vigorously attacked infanticide and the exposure of children.” In addition to the scriptural basis for protecting life, it is part of our Christian heritage to stand against such a travesty.

Today, we mourn those innocents who have been aborted as we work to reduce the number of abortions performed in this country and around the world.

2) Let us mourn the innocents who are executed by our broken justice system. More than 140 people have been freed from death row since 1973 after evidence that they were innocent emerged. How many more wrongfully convicted have been killed by the state? DNA evidence exists in only 5-10% of criminal cases, and often the courts block access to DNA testing even when it might lead to exoneration.

Few people will contest that our justice system has serious problems in need of solving. These systemic failures are even more serious when innocent lives are at stake. Additionally, every execution by the state represents lost opportunities to help those who we believe are guilty find true redemption, something our faith offers to even the worst offenders.

“Who amongst anyone is not above redemption? I think we have to be careful in executing final judgment. The one thing my faith teaches me—I don’t get to play God,” says Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice.

Today, we mourn the executed innocents even as we work to eliminate the death penalty.

3) Let us mourn the innocents who die as a result of our wars. More than 100,000 civilian lives have been lost as a result of the American-waged war in Iraq, and more than 10,000 civilians died in the military conflict in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, many American Christians endorsed or even cheered these wars.

Today, we continue to steal the lives of innocents through our drone program. Human Rights Watch evaluated six airstrikes in Yemen since 2009, and found that at least 57 of the 82 people who perished were civilians. This included a pregnant woman and three children killed in September 2012. In Pakistan in the last decade, an estimated 2,200 people have been killed by drone strikes according to a U.N. investigation. Four hundred were civilians and 200 were “probable noncombatants.”

Where are our candlelight vigils for the innocents murdered? Where is the outcry from Christians? Sadly, too many American Christians have been blinded by their own sense of “patriotism” to educate themselves on these matters, much less advocate for the lives they claim are “sacred” and the people they believe are “made in the image of God.”

Today, we mourn the innocents who die at the hands of the American military even as we work to make peace with the enemies that Christ called us to love.

The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is an appropriate season for all sort of things. This includes “a time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.” Celebration and lamentation are both important parts of spiritual formation.  So between our celebrations of Christ’s birth and the dawn of a new year, let us lament the lives lost unnecessarily and our shameful silence in the face of it all.

Come, Lord.

And bring mercy with you. 

12 Comments

  1. Was an interesting read. Just thought it curious how he pruned it down to the three groups of children we should mourn for. Kinda had a political bent. 30,000 children die EVERY DAY from preventable diseases alone – not counting AIDS. What about children killed by their corrupt governments – like in Syria. Or in civil wars – like the Sudan. Or killed in their own schools. Or die from unsafe or even lack of drinking water, malnutrition and disease. Or even from abuse, neglect, abandonment or infanticide. Or even those who die working as slaves in forced labor or forced to serve in armed forces? I would have appreciated the blog so much more if he had made a more general point about how children die from causes that we as Christians have a calling to take a stand against.

  2. Jonathan, these needless deaths and oppression are all an abomination, along with so much more suffering you could have mentioned. You make me think of the Magi, whose visit to Herod notified him of the Savior’s birth and led to the slaughter. They were warned away from going back to Herod, but they must have heard of the horrid slaughter. How must they have felt for their part in revealing so much to him? How must we all now deal with our part in this world where oppression has not yet ceased?

    • “How must we all now deal with our part in this world where oppression has not yet ceased?”

      Jesus said: “I have given your word to them, but the world has hated them, because they are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” – John 17:14
      True Christians don’t get involved in wars or politics “of this world”. They don’t contribute to the problems and the hatred that fuels these calamities. If EVERYONE who calls themselves a Christian would actually LISTEN to Jesus… 1 John 3:10-12 says “The children of God and the children of the Devil are evident by this fact: Everyone who does not carry on righteousness does not originate with God, neither does he who does not love his brother.  For this is the message which YOU have heard from [the] beginning, that we should have love for one another; not like Cain, who originated with the wicked one and slaughtered his brother.”

  3. First, There is no evidence that the slaughter of the innocents ever happened.

    Second, The suffering and deaths of millions of children of AIDS comes from the religious injunction to reject condoms and other birth control. This is an ongoing abomination institutionalized by too many Christians.

    Third, The religious wars perpetrated by nothing more than domineering religious claims: Angola, Boznia, Rwanda, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine…etc. is the curse of ‘faith-based’ efforts everywhere.

    And fourth, The subjugation of women – on religious grounds – corresponds alarmingly and directly with the suffering and poverty of children worldwide. The emancipation of women would do much to alleviate suffering in the world and yet religion refuses to allow it.

    I’ll stop before I get even angrier. Religion does more harm than good.

    • you are a classic non thinking idiot liberal. atheist. you seem to forget that stalin, hardly a Chrisitan murdered 79 mil of his own people. mao, 35 Mil, pop pot 5 mil, the cursades were brought about by tavelers who wanted access to the holy sites, after the muslims invaded and started killing the christians there. during bill clintoons reign fo error, 3 mil died in the tribal wars in ethiopia.
      the Church gives away billions in aid in different forms to the poor around the world, do you give anything?

    • Ungodly men (and sometimes women) use religion as an excuse to persecute those who are of some other religion or “no religion”… the wicked works these people do originate with Satan and not with God. Jesus said, “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter into the kingdom of heaven”. Then he tells them to “get away from me you workers of lawlessness”.(Matthew 7:21-22) Don’t blame God for the wicked works of hypocrites who claim to be his followers…. Their justice is coming swiftly, just you wait and see.

  4. Martha Jones is a True voice of Love

    The question how are we to take a stand against these injustices is not easy to find. The material universe is constructed to be a self-centered, harmful, and killing life-order, and in this life on earth its the cold-Hearted, me-first, morally indifferent types which both own and rule the world, and victimize ALL our families every day of the year. The earth is a dark planet, and I protest its harmful, killing life-order : ” The Mystical Presence in Life ” GJPaul.wordpress

  5. The government is not “Christian,” only individual people are or can be. God does give the state the right to enforce laws and punish those who violate them. The kingdom of the left hand (state) operates and has different obligations and duties from the kingdom of the right hand (believers).

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