Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent out, and killed all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding countryside, from two years old and under, according to the exact time which he had learned from the wise men. Then that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying,
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
lamentation, weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she wouldn’t be comforted,
because they are no more."
It's odd that this commemoration should take place before our commemorations for the other two events that preceded it: the coming of the Magi (celebrated on 6 January) and the flight into Egypt (commemorated on 14 January).
As with every Season, though, Twlevetide has a contrasting Day within it. If understood correctly, these contrast days (like Gaudete Sunday in Advent, Palm Sunday in Passiontide, Ascension Day during Easter, and so forth) highlight the main themes of the Season.
They also help to correct our romanticized versions of Christianity and the Seasons. As I listened to Christmas carols a few days ago, I was struck by this line from the popular Away In A Manager:
Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stayClose by me forever and love me, I prayBless all the dear children in Thy tender careAnd take us to Heaven to live with Thee thereThe irony being, of course, that dozens of little children were murdered on behalf of Our Lord.
I have often heard the old cliche: "There is no safer place than in the will of God". This is utter poppycock. The reality is that God's Will is hard to understand sometimes. It asked for the death of dozens of baby boys, it asked for the martyrdom of St. Stephen (commemorated only 2 days ago), and it eventually asked for the brutal murder of His Own Dear Son. Safety is not high on God's priority list. Christianity is not a safe religion.
But as I write this, I'm reminded of a passage from C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe:
"Is - is he a man?" asked Lucy
"Aslan a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh," said Susan, "I thought he was a man. Is he - quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"That you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the king I tell you."
If Christianity is ever to spread to the cynical, skeptical Post-Modern generations, we must embrace the harshness of the reality of our religion. We must have a place for the Murder of the Holy Innocents. We must have a place for the voice of Rachel weeping for her children. We must have a place for an unsafe God.
There is no more dangerous place than in the will of God. We might suffer heartache, cut-off relationships, anxiety & fear, social isolation, financial hardship, and possibly even physical torment or death. God's will is not safe. But it is good.