On this day of the Holy Innocents, we remember that the Christmas story was never meant to be as simple as sweetness, as “family,” as the kind of “love wins” theology that flows easily through privileged lives. The birth of deliverance, of salvation, of freedom, of love that is rich with connection and power and compassion inherently goes hand in hand with heavy things. We cannot celebrate that which has the potential to overthrow destruction and believe there will not be losses. If we are not forced to confront them, it is likely because we are resting in the false peace provided by the embrace of the empire. We must always be mindful of that.
After Jesus was born and the Magi refused to hand him over to the insecure King, Herod demanded the slaughter of all the boys age two and under. In an attempt to secure his throne by extinguishing Jesus, he destroyed others. Threats to power in a culture of fear always breed violence. This is the kind of violence the people would have expected from Herod. It wasn’t new. This tension existed before Jesus, this kind of tension is exactly why the cry for a Messiah was so widespread.
On this day, we remember all the children and their families who are being targeted by an insecure king in a culture of fear. Their innocence does not shield them from the empire’s violence. The search, the longing, the incarnation of the spirit of deliverance is met with significant unjust loss.
We remember Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, an 8 year old who died on Christmas Eve in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
We remember Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7 year old who traveled over 2,000 miles with her family only to die within 48 hours of being detained by Border Patrol.
We remember all the children detained, afraid, separated, caged, hungry, thirsty, longing for safety.
We remember their families.
We remember all those who are innocently targeted by threatened power, so often black and brown children.
On this day of Holy Innocents, the lives of children both present and past demand of each and every individual who prays, Come, O Come, Emmanuel, to examine what it is this means.
Those who are white cannot, with integrity, pray for an end to white supremacy and sit idly by while whiteness responds to the fear its time is coming to an end.
Those who are men cannot, with integrity, proclaim good news is coming for girls and nonbinary kids and sit idly by while patriarchy grips tightly to its throne.
Those who are straight and cisgender cannot, with integrity, speak of the dream of a God-with-us who celebrates queerness and sit idly by while queer and trans kids are attacked by those who believe “family values” are being threatened.
Anyone who speaks of calling for deliverance, without examining what that requires – from systems of violence we benefit from or from internal narratives we carry with us – we are all called to reflection today.
Deliverance doesn’t just unfold sweetly.
The Christmas story,
before it was co-opted by empire,
before it became a tool of capitalism,
it was a story that reminds us of the power
of God in the flesh of those pursuing Life, Love, Liberation
even in the midst of horrific violence and occupation.
In the midst of it.
Oppressive power never willingly hands itself over.
That baby in the manger meant innocent people were killed.
Every incarnation of collective hope means potentia for innocent life to be taken.
If we dare to preach, to proclaim, to say we are committed to that kind of Salvation, if we insist on worshiping the One who symbolizes our potential to overthrow evil, may the lives of every child who stands to bear the brunt of its resistance hold us to account.
How will we use our privilege to interrupt the cycle of violence?
How will we use our power to protect the children most vulnerable to being targets?
How will we ensure we are not calling for a movement we are not prepared to follow through on?
How will we keep from hiding our eyes from the Holy Innocents while glaring at Jesus?
How will we live our faith with integrity, with commitment to God enfleshed in those who are crying for deliverance in the first place?
By Rev. M Barclay