The Family Flees: French, wood and egg tempra, 14h century, Metropolitan Museum or Art.
The Feast of the Holy Innocents is a rude awakening from Christmas bundles, boxes and bows. The last of leftovers are being pulled out for our lunches and gifts are just now finding resting places among our possessions. The Christmas television specials ran out last night and we awake in Christmas week to the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
The feast day celebrates the awareness that no matter how hard we try to create a Walton Family Christmas special out of our lives, one need not scratch too deep to find suffering at the hands of real people who make real decisions which impact real lives causing real suffering. Power can pull it off. Insecurity will usually play a role. Combine them and things get very bad very quickly for anyone who lacks power.
Herod must have been a terribly insecure man. Who knows if he also suffered from low emotional intelligence or a narcissistic personality disorder…or both. But he did the math, realized he had been duped by the wise men, reacted out of the deep insecurity of a divine ruler’s birth in his proximity and did what small, powerful men so often do – he punched innocence to death as a way to regain control.
We do not know the details of this event, but we know it must have been horrific. Mothers wailed. Fathers closed up. Aunts and uncles stood guard over broken hearts. This will not show up in any of our holiday specials on TV. And yet, every time I see the end of The Grinch who stole Christmas I am aware that there is an element of this story of insecure power playing out as the Grinch, remote, disconnected, green and short, plots to destroy simply because a part of him was two sizes too small.
Every one of us wakes up afraid at times. Every one of us has “Holy Innocents” days or seconds, minutes, hours or even years. There are Herods and Grinches around. But there are also wise men who do not allow power to corrupt by taking a different way home. There are fathers who rescue their two year olds by taking the family and hitting the road for safety. There are mothers who say “yes,” sure that the “yes” was right to speak but not sure if their “yes” will make for a happy or prosperous life. THere is even a Saviour, Christ the Lord.
The art of life seems not to be in avoiding the Herods of this world. The art of life seems to be in seeing past them to a loving God who is worthy of trust enough to take the next step, and the next, and the next.
I love walking the side-isles of the nave of our cathedral in the light of late afternoon with my dog Kai. It can feel like a pilgrimage. An arch, a window, and arch, a window, an arch, a window. Some windows are of hellish stories and others of delightful ones – each separated by an arch and a pillar. At the end is the heavy wooden door to the garden – sunlight, fresh air, a place for Kai to sniff a bit – some grass for a short nap if we play our cards right. Walking the isles seems like life. Colorful with nights like arches and windows like, well, life. We live. We walk. We hope that God will redeem the whole thing and that along the way we may lend each other courage for the journey.
As the congregation walks to their pews on Sundays, I see good people pass under arches, past windows. The colored light hits their faces and I am reminded that it is hard to know what they have been through this past week. But they have come. They are here. We will eat. We will drink. We will taste a bit of glory and then lend each other courage for the next window. The next arch. The next spread of light and colors.
May God bless the innocents. May we be able to see them, not turning away. May we work to reduce their suffering, or at least honor it by sitting vigil. And may we know, when in the light of a dark window, that the next arch means a new one. And hope for the journey.