A Christmas Prayer
by Robert Louis Stevenson
We thank you for this place in which we dwell,
for the love that unites us,
for the peace accorded us this day,
for the hope with which we expect the morrow,
for the work, the health, the food
and bright skies which make our lives
delightful for our friends in all parts of the earth.
“For the love that unites us.” Yes, love can and often does unite us. Yet the wolves are ever at the door. One of the things we gloss over in decorating our homes with our perfectly trimmed Christmas trees or porcelain Nativity figurines is that Jesus allowed himself to be born into almost immediate danger. We are reminded of this today as the Church commemorates the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents.
The Holy Innocents are the children who were killed at the orders of King Herod, in the hope that by killing every boy born in Bethlehem at the same time as Jesus, he would succeed in killing the new-born King of the Jews. If the population of Bethlehem is estimated as around 1,000, perhaps about 20 boys were slain.
There was nothing about those baby boys that made them deserve death. Look at any one of them, and you can see that he had no chance to do anything, or be anyone, or become anyone. He had done nothing. He had done nothing bad, he had done nothing good. He was born, and then he died, and that was all there was to him. These children did not insist on anything except their mothers’ milk. Babies may not rank high on the scale as far as our human calculus is concerned; but then neither do sparrows, and yet God has told us that God sees and counts every one of those.
The Holy Innocents can stand, therefore, for the “unimportant” and “unnecessary” pawns, child and adult alike, that permeate the whole of human history, the ones who can be sacrificed for some greater cause because they “don’t really matter”; the eggs that were broken to make an omelette…or even broken to make nothing at all. There are plenty of them, one way or another. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that in God’s eyes no one is unimportant, no one is unnecessary, no one “doesn’t really matter.” However meaningless their lives and deaths may seem to us, they shine glorious in heaven.
Over 2000 years later the Herods of our modern world are still trying to smother Jesus in his creche. Indeed, many are going even further by attempting to kill him before he is able to leave the womb. I love that we remember this event so soon after Christmas as it serves to remind us that while we are celebrating the incredible joy that comes with the Incarnation, we must remain ever vigilant and on guard to ensure that the rights of the weaker among us are protected and that human dignity is the foundation for any government policy. The spirit of Herod unfortunately lives on in the halls of many government chambers.
In Stevenson’s beautiful prayer he speaks of love, of peace, and of hope. May we continue to pray for those things no matter the state of our lives or the world in which we live.