Holy Innocents, Year A
The Collect: We remember today, Heavenly Father, 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, Amen.
Let us not deceive ourselves: The collect is wholly at odds with the narrative in Matthew 2:13-18. We pray, of course, that “innocent victims” be received into God’s eternal love, but we sadly wonder why God’s “great might” does not actually seem to turn very often to the “designs of evil tyrants” despite our prayers. As I write this in 2013 I am thinking of the slaughter of the innocents in Damascus and elsewhere. No doubt if the Christ child had been born in Al Ghouta, an angel would have warned his parents to flee to Jordan or somewhere before the sarin gas fell, asphyxiating the other children. No matter that the murder of so many children in Bethlehem by Herod is historically questionable; the fact remains that innocents do die “among wailing and loud lamentation” every single day. Could not God have saved all of the children of Bethlehem, helped them all “escape . . . the snare of the fowler”?
In such matters it does not do to offer easy theodicies. We can only have Jeremiah’s “hope for [our] future,” a hope so amazingly expressed in John’s vision: “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And, as Mormonism teaches, this healing will also include God’s own tears. Eventually.
And so to a different collect, one more in keeping with the desperation of this day:
Dear God, merciful God, loving God — do something! Do not wait for the first things to pass away. It is too long and the suffering too great.
. . .
. . .
In the meantime, I suppose we have to accept that we have no way to call down divine justice, much as we may want it. And so we’re left with this: how many of the children of Bethlehem will we save?