Holy Innocents and the Dark Side of Christmas
Today, three days after Christmas, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those babies Herod murdered in order to murder the Christchild.
It is not a very Christmasy feast day, is it. Or is it?
For decades, American culture has told us we should be happy, happy, HAPPY!! at Christmas. Andy Williams singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” and all that. But Christmas has a dark side. And one cannot fully get Christmas if one ignores that darkness.
We might consider it an awful thing if we spend Christmas in a place we do not want to be, whether that be away from family -- or with certain family. But Joseph and Mary spent that first Christmas in a place they would not be, far away from home because of the decree of a distant emperor. Then once at their destination, they were crowded out, to which many can also relate.
A dark side of Christmas I’ve come to notice for the first time in any significant way this Christmas season is the celebration of Adam’s Fall. Now the Fall doesn’t seem something to celebrate. But if there is no Fall, there is likely no Incarnation, no Christmas. For to save us from the Fall is why Jesus came. So traditional festivities include reading the Genesis account of the Fall during services of Nine Lessons and Carols and songs calling us to “Remember Adam’s Fall.” The Fall is virtually embraced.
Other songs remind us of the death the Christchild would eventually suffer for us. The Seven Joys of Mary contains this jarring verse:
The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of six
To see her own son Jesus,
Upon the Crucifix.
That doesn’t sound like Christmas joy. But if one separates the Incarnation from the Crucifixion, one doesn’t fully get Christmas or Christianity for that matter.
And both the Incarnation of Bethlehem and the Redemption of Calvary were so world changing, the forces of evil did their worst to short-circuit God’s plan, to snuff out the Christchild before his work was complete. And in that evil, the Holy Innocents were slaughtered.
Yes, not very Christmasy. But what passes for Christmasy in our culture is hardly Christmas. To franticly ignore the dark side of Christmas in strenuous efforts to be happy (or else) is to miss out on what Christmas is about. To understand, and fully appreciate, the “tidings of great joy,” we must understand they were, and are, proclaimed in the darkness.
May you have a blessed Feast of the Holy Innocents.