Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of
your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our
hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect for the First Sunday After Christmas, BCP)
The First Sunday After Christmas pushes the commemoration of the Holy Innocents to Monday this year; however in the Church of the Wake Up and Live blog, I am placing them side-by-side.
Slaughter of the Holy Innocents by Duccio
We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy
innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray,
into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your
great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish
your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ
our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the
Holy Spirit,, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Collect for the Holy Innocents, BCP)
I understand the need for the church to keep these days separated, so that each may receive their due respect and reflection and remembrance. But the more I survey the cultural landscape, and the more I consider where I see the church fitting in to a world increasingly crowded with people and competing wants and desires, the more I felt the need to see these two occasions as the Yin and Yang of what's out there in our every day lives.
The slaughter of the Holy Innocents is Herod's fearful response to the news that there's a new king that's been born in Bethlehem. To stave off any future rival, Herod orders all baby boys two years and younger to be killed. Hence, we have the grisly scene of baby upon baby slain by the sword, none of whom were Jesus because God gave warning to Joseph in his dreams to get his family the heck out of there before the soldiers arrived. Jesus lived, but many others died. For the tyrant, any threat, real or perceived, to their absolute power and authority over others will drive them to do violence. They are the people still walking in darkness and determined to keep everyone else in the dark with them.
Which is why remembering the Gospel for today's First Sunday After Christmas is an important antidote to the destructive and power-hungry forces of the day. John opens his telling of Christ's life not with the manger scene, but with the establishment that this Word, that has been made flesh, was with God from the beginning, and this Word was the Light of the world. With this light now in the world, no amount of darkness will overcome it. This light will be the glowing flame that will challenge conventions, and blaze a trail of freedom and life for those with the courage to follow. And this light will shine into those places where those opponents, who wish to grow the darkness, least want to see. Darkness will attempt to overcome this light. But, as we learn at the other end of this story, not even death can put out this light.
In our world fraught with anger and division and with the abuse of power, the light continues to shine. It comes through every broken or cracked vessel who calls him or herself a child of God or a follower of Christ or on the path to whatever carries them closer to that Light of the world, and believes that light will be greater than the darkness. It comes from the trust that the light in the heart will fill the entire body and be the outward and visible sign to those still fumbling in the dark. This is the light that becomes more powerful when people committed to increasing the light in the world come together for the common purpose of igniting a bonfire that will burn away the darkness. Let this light so shine out in the darkness even in the face of opposition.