In certain high church traditions, today is marked as the “feast of holy innocents”, that is, the day that commemorates the slaughter of young children undertaken by Herod when he learned that Jesus was to be born King of the Jews. He was a bit insecure, so not wanting any competition from a toddler (!), he had a bunch of young male children killed, in the hope that among them would be this special child (see Matthew 2.16).
The slaughter of innocent children remains fresh in our minds following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps this is a good reason to take a look at a passage of Scripture that often is glossed over by the church: the slaughter of innocent children is a real, if unpalatable, part of the Christmas story. It’s not often part of Christmas plays or pageants, but that ugly side of human nature existed even in the story of Jesus’ birth and early childhood.
Herod clearly did not have a clear picture of this young Monarch-in-waiting, however. It’s understandable that he would have thought that he could outwit a pretender to his throne, but he wasn’t dealing with any pretender here, but Almighty God himself. How does Matthew report it? “When they (the Magi) had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod” (Matthew 2.13-15a, NIV).
God was not about to let his plan for the salvation of humanity be thwarted by a man’s insecurity. He spoke to Joseph in a dream and had him take Mary and Jesus to Egypt – a place that was not always safe for Jews to go! – until Herod had died. Surely Herod will have self-satisfyingly assumed his plan to eradicate his competitor was successful. But God had other plans.
There can be times when we think that God’s plans can be thwarted, or at least delayed or set aside, by our actions. But the Lord knows better. His plan to save the human race from sin would not be set aside by any monarch. Still today, his plan to save the human race from sin remains: God’s heart to save us, made in his image, remains as strong as when Jesus was taken to the safe haven of Egypt.
God’s plan to bless and keep you in his perfect peace will not be foiled! As you look toward a new year, may you know God’s blessing and the assurance of his love.