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. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children: she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’
I cannot imagine what it is like to lose a child, nor what it is like for an entire village to lose half a generation. Somehow these questions have been present throughout my life, owing to family circumstances and to growing up in South Wales.
Herod’s greedy rage, trying to remove all possible challengers to his status and possessions, makes no sense either then or now. What had these children done that he had to take revenge against the Magi in this way? I doubt that the massacre was limited to babies and toddlers, more likely every small child was killed so those carrying out orders could report they had missed none. Putin’s annexation of four areas of Ukraine, with yet more mass killings in the news from other countries, makes Herod’s crimes even ring all too true with contemporary horrors.
What do you say? You, the neighbour suffering the same torment; you, the rabbi standing in the synagogue; you, the writer trying to convey the horror of these families suddenly missing one beloved? What can you say, God? The sad loss of the potential all these individuals held within themselves; the harm which the future will reveal for parents and siblings “to the last syllable of recorded time”; the elimination of love?
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1) Some of the great pieces of Messianic love poetry stem from horror, fear, death. Is this God trying to warn and prepare his people; the rabbi reading the prophets – it was thus, the writer’s explanatory use of prophecy?
By some means, you pick up the pieces, put your life back in a semblance of order and carry on. You ignore the taunts of those who escaped the horror but jibe at you in case the horror returns to them. Somehow you determine that good will come and these short lives will have meaning.
God who grieves with us and alongside us, you did not create us to live like this half dead ourselves with fear and grief. You know that we were not meant to live sick to our hearts with pity for ourselves and others. Comfort, O comfort all your grieving people, come and listen to us.
The Rev’d Ruth Browning, retired minister worshipping at Thornbury URC