Words on the Word
The Holy Innocents
‘God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.’ Christmas makes his statement of John’s more particular. In these days, we celebrate Christ as the Light of the world, the ‘dawn from on high’. By being Light, God makes us aware of a darkness we might otherwise not register. When Christ was born, the Gospel was revealed in an explosion of jubilant glory. When he expired on Golgotha (and that, too, says John, was ‘glory’), the world was thrown into physical darkness, although it was the middle of the day. The feast we keep today reminds us that the assault of darkness on light was played out from the beginning of Christ’s earthly life. Let us note this: the liturgy does not explain the massacre of Bethlehem. How could it? Quite simply, the Church ascertains that, yes, this awful thing did happen. It then proceeds to express assurance that the sacrifice of the innocents is mysteriously one with the sacrifice of Christ. If we enter the Church’s mind-set, this feast will confirm two great truths. In the first place we learn that any suffering borne for Christ’s sake has redemptive power in so far as it is united to Christ’s work of redemption. Human suffering is, then, potentially invested with immense dignity. In the second place we learn that the sacrifice of the innocents, while evidencing darkness, is more essentially a sign of Light’s victory. Remember, the heart-rending cry of Rachel, as Jeremiah reports it, is answered by an oracle from God: ‘Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: [your children] shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future.’ Today’s feast is an integral part of Christmas because it is a feast of hope. The Light the angels hymned and shepherds saw illumines even the vale of death. The vast silence of Hades resonates, now, with shouts of ‘Glory!’
The Light shines in the darkness. And the darkness does not prevail over it.