Friday after the First Sunday after Christmas
Scripture: St. Matthew 2:16-18 (NKJV)
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
King Herod tried to use the Wise Men to locate Jesus, that he might eliminate this threat to his throne. But when that plan failed, Herod flew into a tirade. By now Jesus was about a year old, so Herod ordered all male children in Bethlehem less than two years of age to be slaughtered (just to give himself some cushion). But Joseph was warned by an angel to flee that night and escape to Egypt.
Bethlehem was only a two-hour journey from Jerusalem, so it’s reasonable to assume the Magi arrived in Bethlehem on the same day they’d spoken with Herod. It’s also very possible they left Bethlehem that same night and headed back east, just as Joseph, Mary, and the Christ Child would be departing west for Egypt. By morning the Magi and the holy family were simply gone, heading in opposite directions. No one in Bethlehem could tell Herod where anyone was because no one knew. Everyone—the whole entourage, the whole Nativity set—was simply gone.
But there were still those who remained. “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under…”
You might say the little ones died that day for no other reason than they “resembled Jesus” as baby boys 2-years-old and younger. We call these boys of Bethlehem the “Holy Innocents,” not because they were holy or innocent on their own, or by the way the tragic way they died, but because they were victims of a slaughter aimed not at them, but at Someone even more innocent: Someone without sin, Christ, our Lord.