My reading for this advent season is found daily in the beauty of the Gospels and Psalms, but also in the prophetic side of Matthew, the book of Daniel and Revelation. These circular pictures of the Church age with their themes of faithfulness, suffering and final victory lend themselves to the story of the holy innocents of Bethlehem. This is out of sequence for Advent but nevertheless this is what I choose for the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing in 1939 of Herod’s fear and rage, of the death of innocent children, of the sufferings that will come to Jesus, gives meaning to all Christian suffering. He writes:
Filled with immeasurable fear and jealousy, he [Herod] now orders the death of all children of Bethlehem younger than three years of age. He considers this to be the only certain way to get the divine child. But even though his strike is clever and cruel, it misses its target. Herod wants to destroy Christ, but Christ is alive and in his place and for him the first martyrs are struck down and die. The innocent children of Bethlehem protect the life of their king and Lord who is their age. They become the first martyrs of Christendom, the dying witnesses for the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, their savior. All persecution aims at the final destruction of Jesus Christ. Its purpose is to murder Christ, yet it cannot harm Christ. Christ lives, and with him lives the martyrs of all times.Speaking of Rachel who seemingly returns to weep over the murdered children of Bethlehem, Bonhoeffer continues:
The lament for the martyrs of Christ begins, and it will not quiet down until the end of time. It is the lament for the world estranged from God and an enemy of Christ, for the blood of the innocents, for our own guilt and sin for which Jesus Christ himself experienced suffering. But within this inconsolable lamentation, there is one great consolation; Jesus Christ lives, and we live with him if we suffer with him.In Christ, the one who was, who is and who is coming, there is great peace.