Last Wednesday, I was in my car when I heard a programme on the radio about the Christian Feast that falls on that day.
December 28th is the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents.
A rarely celebrated day, this feast remembers the young boys who were slaughtered by Herod as he searched for the messiah.
Hot on the heels of Christmas, the day when hope and joy was made incarnate on the earth through the birth of Jesus, we are confronted with a feast that reminds us of the reality that his birth did not and has not brought peace.
Atrocities still occur. They occurred then, over 2000 years ago, as hundreds of innocent children were ripped from their Mother’s arms and murdered, and, we know too well, they occur now.
This year in particular we have been brought face to face with this indisputable truth. 2016 will be remembered for many things, but I wonder if any will remain with us more than the photo of a baby boy lying dead on a Greek beach, one of the hundreds of children who died while fleeing for their lives from a war zone that was previously their home.
The parallels are all too apparent.
On this feast day, in the church clergy wear red vestments to represent the blood of these first martyrs killed by Herod, and the blood of all the innocents killed throughout the world since then by countless other Herod’s for whom their young lives were expendable: necessary casualties to their power hungry appetites..
Despite the relevance of this day, despite the fact that, I would argue, this is exactly what the world needs – an opportunity to come together to remember, and to mourn – the church has, on the whole, buried this Feast Day. It is too tricky, too near to Christmas. It doesn’t seem to fit with the message of goodwill to all men.
And as I drove, just three days after Christmas, and heard for the first time of this moment in the church’s calendar, the truth of it smarted. It stung.
Part of me, a large part if I’m honest, wants to forget about suffering and strife at Christmas. I want to cozy up with my family, to make a nest and feed myself and those I love with treats. I want the illusion of complete safety. I want to pretend, if just for a few days, that nothing can touch us, that all is love, all is well.
But I have learnt that this pre-disposition is a form of denial.
I can dress it up whichever way I want. I can say it is because I want a ‘special’ day to forget about all my troubles. But actually what I am doing is pretending.
I want a day of perfection, even if it is faked.
At the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ a dose of truth is good for us, but we do not want it. We want to bury our heads in the sand, or the booze, or the food, or the busyness.
But I know from experience this refusal of vulnerability, this desire to hide the messy bits of life is dangerous. And, even at Christmas, it is better by far to be honest. To recognise the complexity in our own lives and around the world.
When I remember that I am broken and so are you and so is the world, I am a kinder person. Kinder to myself and kinder to others.
As I listened to this programme and learnt about the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents I was reminded, even if it hurts, even if it feels awkward, even if we don’t know what to say or we worry we will get it wrong, the healthiest way to live is with my eyes, heart and hands open.
As I drove and listened, I found myself agreeing out loud with the theologians and makers of this programme, this feast day is exactly what we need. For the church, and for the world.
Maybe if we, the church, offered a time and place to come and grieve together, to tell the stories that help us through adversity, to be comforted by the unity of being together, we would find ourselves essential in a world that needs these rituals.
I know this is not an especially upbeat new year’s eve kind of post. Sorry about that. Next week I will write about the year that has been and what I am hoping for the year to come.
For now I wanted to thank you.
Thank you for reading and sharing and commenting. It has been a privilege to write here and to be read by so many. I am grateful for you.
Also, this is the last opportunity to download my Autumn Essay (you can get it by subscribing via the pop-up, or at the side of the screen on a computer, or at the bottom of the post on your phone). This will also ensure you are notified about all exciting new developments on the blog and will also receive the occasional note from yours truly.
Again, thank you for your support, kind words and encouragement. Happy new year!