Peter Paul Rubens: Massacre of the Innocents

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 

[Matthew 2:16 NRSV]

Today, the Church commemorates The Holy Innocents.

As told in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, these were the young children slaughtered by the insecure King Herod, after he learned that he had been tricked by the wise men, who had assured him they would tell him the whereabouts of a new king that had been born in Bethlehem. [Matt. 2:13-23]

Jesus escaped the massacre because an angel appeared to his earthly father, Joseph, in a dream, and told Joseph to take the child and the child’s mother, Mary, and flee to Egypt. They lived in Egypt until after Herod died, when the angel again appears to tell him it is safe to return.

In recent years, the United States has experienced a rise in xenophobia; the dislike and intolerance of foreigners, many of whom are fleeing here for safety from brutal wars and genocide in their countries.

Thus, the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt resonates with immigration and refugee resettlement advocates who equate the plight of the Holy Family with a that of today’s refugees and immigrants.

The last twelve months have been one seemingly interminable clash between the current administration in Washington, which opposes allowing entry to the increasing number of outsiders who appeal for asylum; and the individuals and agencies who work on behalf of the asylum seekers.

The two distinctively different viewpoints each has its staunch circle of supporters.

Linda Hartke – President LIRS

“As Christians, we do not fear our new neighbors who have fled for their very lives – we embrace them. As people of faith, we are called to love and serve our neighbors – and as a result, our churches, our communities and our nation are stronger,” says Linda Hartke, President of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. LIRS is one of the agencies at the forefront of the debate.

Hartke’s sentiment that runs counter to the attitudes of not only the resident in the White House, but also to congressmen who stoke the fires of nationalism under the contrived contention of protecting our country. Congressmen such as Arkansas Republican Representative Tom Cotton:

Congressman Tom Cotton

“You’re going to encourage parents from around the world who live in poverty and oppression and war to illegally immigrate to our country with small children. What could be more dangerous and even immoral than that?”

Cotton was defending his stance on ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program initiated by Executive Order of the previous President, allowing children brought here by their parents at an early age, to remain in this country, despite entering without authorization. Many of them fled conditions of poverty and violence, mainly in the countries of Central America. For the children, this is the only country they’ve known. This is now their home.

On this Holy Innocents Day, many of us will go about our daily routines in relative safety, without fear of violence, war, hunger or oppression. We will most likely give little thought to those who find themselves in those situations.

On this Holy Innocents Day, I invite you to take a moment to ponder their plight. Pray that God will keep them out of harm’s way.

On this Holy Innocents Day, I also invite you to act. A letter, email or phone call encouraging your legislator and those in Washington who make policy, encouraging them to search their hearts and open the doors of this great nation, to welcome the stranger – without fear, but with compassion.

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