Three days after Christmas, the celebration of “God with us”, the church calendar has another holy day which sits in stark contrast to the familiar and oft sentimental elements of Luke’s story of mangers, shepherds, and angels. It is taken from the birth narrative of Matthew and tells the story of jealous King Herod hearing from the Magi (wise men) of the birth of a new king of Israel in Bethlehem. Herod sends troops to kill all male children 2 years old and under to be rid of the possible danger to his reign. This calendar day, mostly unobserved by the church and individual Christians, is an important reminder to all of us.
So many of us live as if our faith provided us with an insurance policy against trouble and evil. We tend to be surprised when life is unfair, or when life’s circumstances hand out to us knocks, hardships and even evil. This feast of Holy Innocents in which we commemorate innocent suffering should be the reminder that the promise of our God is of God present with and to us in the circumstances of life. Our faith does not offer us a pass from experiencing life’s blows, nature’s unheeding laws played out or human actions which leads to hurt and evil.
Holy Innocents Day also offers us the opportunity to be reminded within the 12 days of Christmas joy, every year, there are many people who are suffering during this time of societal rejoicing and partying. We need to be aware of them and open to them in order to be of comfort, as we are able, in the midst of suffering that they did not choose and do not deserve. (Which also raises the deep question “Does anyone really ‘deserve’ to suffer?”)
None of us wishes to either endure or encourage human suffering but ignoring it does not make it go away. The Gospel tells us of Jesus suffering on our behalf, to me this implies that God suffers with us when we suffer. Our Christian hope is not the Good News of avoidance but the Good News we do not have to be overcome by the hurts and evils we experience. God working in and through us can eventually lead us to a new day and new life where suffering is not ignored or negated but is redeemed and transformed. And while we journey to get there God is there with us every step of the way sustaining and upholding us – even at those times we are sure we are walking the way of sorrow alone.