With the joy of Christmas so active in my memory, I find today’s feast a bit jarring. On the one hand it makes perfect sense to place it here. We are simply continuing the theme of reflecting on the gospel narratives dealing with Jesus’ infancy. But there is still a deep pathos to this feast. Calling to mind the slaughter of children, even ancient children, brings no joy. The tragedy of the event, so aptly captured by Rachel’s lament, carries an eerie weight that should give us pause in the midst of our Christmas celebration.
In pairing this particular gospel story with the text from 1 John, the Church recognizes the tension that a tale of slaughter in Christmastide evokes. It urges us not to focus on the story only as a story of Herod’s treachery, but to turn instead to the larger human drama of our resistance to God and to our desperate need for the saving action of the Lord Jesus. In today’s readings, the murdered children are innocent, but we are not. We may not, like Herod, be guilty of deep atrocity, but we are certainly not innocent. According to John the path out of sinfulness is arduous and treacherous. Many of us “walk in darkness” unaware of our alienation or in denial of how deep the darkness goes. To become aware of our need for redemption—to “acknowledge our sins,” as 1 John declares—would appear to be a requirement for receiving the redemption that Christ offers through his death and resurrection.
Even today, just a few days after Christmas, we are reminded of the ever-present reality of the paschal mystery. How appropriate, then, is our psalm response, “our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.”
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