Holy Innocents
[December 28]
PrimiPilus I MMV
Holy Innocents Home

O ALMIGHTY God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths; Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Isaiah liv. 1, Revelation xiv. 1   &   St. Matthew ii. 13

Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt


Isaiah 54 1:13

Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more. For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.

Revelation xiv. 1
Appointed for the first lesson of Evening Prayer

I LOOKED, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.

St. Matthew ii. 13

THE angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Scripture from 1928 Book of Common Prayer and KJV


For the past month the lessons have pointed to the coming of the Lord Jesus, including his birth, his public ministry after John Baptist, and his promised second coming. Now, in the fullness of the Christmas season we hear of an event in his early life, and of the evil King Herod dispatching his soldiers to kill all the children in and around Bethlehem, so that he might kill the child who would become King of Israel.

I searched our lessons to find something joyful as Christmas in this season. Even with this story that is so fraught with the terror of the slaughter of the innocents, there is a very bright side to all this, with several aspects:

First and most importantly was the angelic warning to Joseph to take the family and flee to Egypt so that the prophecy which says, "Out of Egypt have I called my son", might be fulfilled. That was good news indeed. In fact, had this warning not come, we would have no Christmas story to remember.

The other important and joyful outcome was that evil did not triumph over God. He will not be defeated or turned by evil. The evil that entered Herod, and led to his killing of several members of his family and the Innocent, would not touch the Holy Family. That is good news indeed, for as Jesus said, not even the Gates of Hell will prevail against his church. We can share in this good news in knowing that God’s plan of salvation will not be thwarted. Your salvation as the part of the elect, one of Christ’s own, may not be stolen away from you by the Evil one.

But what of the little children, those that were slain by Herod’s order, who may not of even been taught of God yet because they were so young? Well, scripture does not tell us much about these Holy Innocents. However, by tradition, by their very title, one can see that the church has esteemed them to be holy, set aside, and sanctified. They were indeed innocent, and they died as innocent bystanders. Although not martyrs in the sense of witnesses to a faith in Christ, they were casualties of the war against Jesus by the Devil. So the church has long given them a special place on the calendar to mark this event in Christ’s life, his flight to Egypt, and also to mark the first humans to die because of Jesus.

In our epistle, we heard the account of Revelation of the 144,000 innocent virgin saints, who, with the 24 elders and host of heaven, were with God. The connection here I believe, is to suggest that the Holy Innocents are in the number of the 144,000 faithful of the Israel, for it is written, "These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb"

We can also take comfort from the psalm appointed today, - a prayer of deliverance for the innocent - as certainly these babes were. The second lesson appointed for this morning came from Matthew 18: listen as I read selected verses. (Matt 18:1-10)

Does this scripture story apply to us today? Are their still young innocents who are slain for the sake of evil? I certainly think so, and believe it occurs every second in our modern world. God is the creator of all life. It is through his creation that each and every one of us is here. God set in motion the biological laws, and the normal interactions of male and female, that have given rise to all life. As David in the Psalm 139 said, "For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well."

We must believe in God the Creator of every person – or believe in nothing – no law – no value – no right and wrong. Whenever we take or harm an innocent life, there has been a crime perpetrated against God. Our duty is to raise up children to be good citizens and to honor us and God, not to kill and abuse them. I am reminded of Rome in the first centuries. It was common to "expose" a child that one did not desire. Christians puzzled the Roman citizens, for they not only refused to do this, but rescued the youth and instead of raising them as slaves or prostitutes, they cherished them.

Do you remember the admonition of Jesus for those who would offend the least of his, "for it would be better that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea." I cannot help but believe that this curse was earned by Herod, killer of the Innocents. He might be joined by other through the ages… such as Hitler… and some of the child abusers and killers of our present age.

The innocent who die as a result of evil, I believe, come under God’s special protection and grace. I certainly hold that for the Holy Innocents, and hope that for the innocents of every age. I pray they are part of the elect, and will be resurrected on the last day.

As evil as this situation is in our world, we must remember that God will prevail. His elect will enjoy Paradise, and will be resurrected in glory on the last day. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any othcer creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord..

In closing, I’d like to share with you the prayer for a newborn babe from the Office of the Churching of Women that I have adapted. Let us pray:

Grant, we beseech thee, O heavenly Father, that the children of thy servants may daily increase in wisdom and stature, and grow in thy love and service, until they come to thy eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The Reverend Mark Carroll