The Magi, The Massacre, Feasts of the Holy Innocents, CHILDERMAS, & mass movements needed this December 28
By Kevin Stoda
Since we are still in the midst of Christmas season— a season which continues well into January for many Orthodox and African churches—it is appropriate to ponder won of the more beloved and more fearful tales of Christmas Tide. On the one hand, it is the story of the so-called Magi, three mysterious wise men (or kings) from the East. The Magi make the Christ child’s humble arrival on earth into a royal affair. On the other hand, in response to these three Magi fleeing the dominion of one King Herod following the birth of a baby Jesus in the town of Bethlehem, a massacre is called out.
According to Matthew 2:16-18, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:”
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”[
Reports of the God-child’s coming had been prophesied of for centuries. Therefore, as in political families today, the mafia types and King Lears of Jesus’ day sought to end his story on earth rather short. As with modern mass-murderers today, like Osama bin Laden, or similar to addicted American warrior-addicts, such as Dick Cheney, the full-appreciation of deaths of hundreds of innocents did not detour King Herod away from his pursuit of protecting his own legacy on earth.
WHO WERE THE MAGI?
According to Herodotus (I, ci). “ At the time of the birth of Jesus, the Magi were an ancient priestly caste dwelling within the Parthian empire, a large area to the east of the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire. These priests practiced astrology, which at the time was a hybrid of astrology and what we now call astronomy. They were adept at interpreting dreams (which we possibly get a flavor of in Daniel 2). At the time just prior to the birth of our Lord, the Magi formed the upper house of the Megistanes council, whose duties included the election of the king of the Parthian empire,
Strabo explained (XI, ix, 3), “Thus, the Magi at this time were possibly "kingmakers."
According to Chuck Missler, “The ancient Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes (known today as the Kurds) credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. After some Magi, who had been attached to the Median court, proved to be expert in the interpretation of dreams, Darius the Great established them over the state religion of Persia. (2) (Contrary to popular belief, the Magi were not originally followers of Zoroaster. (3) That all came later.)”
Missler adds, “It was in this dual capacity, whereby civil and political counsel was invested with religious authority, that the Magi became the supreme priestly caste of the Persian empire and continued to be prominent during the subsequent Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian periods.”
Missler also claims that one of the prophet Daniel’s names in Babylonia and Persian times was “Rab-mag, the Chief of the Magi.”
More importantly, in a way, through his leadership role in both the Hebrew Diaspora and in these Eastern Kingdoms, Daniel also played the role of Kingmaker—as well as prophet. “His unusual career included being a principal administrator in two world empires--the Babylonian and the subsequent Persian Empire. When Darius appointed him, a Jew, over the previously hereditary Median priesthood, the resulting repercussions led to the plots involving the ordeal of the lion's den.”
Missler summarizes one important legend as follows, “ Daniel apparently entrusted a Messianic vision (to be announced in due time by a "star") to a secret sect of the Magi for its eventual fulfillment.”
MAGI’S ARRIVAL INTO JERUSALEM
“In Jerusalem, the sudden appearance of the Magi, probably traveling in force with all imaginable oriental pomp and accompanied by an adequate cavalry escort to insure their safe penetration of Roman territory, certainly alarmed Herod and the populace of Jerusalem.” Missler reports.
Analyzing the political facts on the ground at the time of Christ, Missler notes,“It would seem as if these Magi were attempting to perpetrate a border incident which could bring swift reprisal from Parthian armies. Their request of Herod regarding the one who "has been born King of the Jews" was a calculated insult to him, a non--Jew who had contrived and bribed his way into that office.”
“Consulting his scribes, Herod discovered from the prophecies in the Tanach (the Old Testament) that the Promised One, the Messiah, would be born in Bethlehem. Hiding his concern and expressing sincere interest, Herod requested them to keep him informed.” However, “[a]fter finding the babe and presenting their prophetic gifts, the Magi “being warned in a dream” (a form of communication most acceptable to them) departed to their own country, ignoring Herod’s request.”
According to Missler, “The [magi’s] gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were also prophetic, speaking of our Lord’s offices of king, priest, and savior. Gold speaks of His kingship; frankincense was a spice used in the priestly duties; and myrrh was an embalming ointment anticipating His death.” In short, the tale of the Magi in the Christ-child legend, detailed in the New Testament book of Matthew, included recognition of the fact that that particular baby, who had been born humbly in a manger, was to be known as the savior, the priest and of royal lineage.
Feast of INNOCENTS Murdered—Part of the Christmas Theme
The Catholic Church recognizes December 28 each year as a cyclical date of remembrance of “the church’s first martyrs”. “The Latin Church instituted the feast of the Holy Innocents at a date now unknown, not before the end of the fourth and not later than the end of the fifth century. It is, with the feasts of St. Stephen and St. John, first found in the Leonine Sacramentary, dating from about 485. To the Philocalian Calendar of 354 it is unknown. The Latins keep it on 28 December, the Greeks on 29 December, the Syrians and Chaldeans on 27 December. These dates have nothing to do with the chronological order of the event; the feast is kept within the octave of Christmas because the Holy Innocents gave their life for the newborn Saviour.”
Orthodox church literature claims that 144,000 were massacred by Herod’s zealous forces. Other sources claim that as few as a dozen infants were executed in Herod’s quest to kill the “Christ child. The actual number of victims is not so important to the Christian tale as is the (offering or) shedding of innocent blood. This massacre is what gives believers a premonition of Christ’s own sacrifice some three decades later. Later martyrs of the church in centuries to come soon come t make up most of the rest of the Latin, Orthodox other church calendars.
However, by placing the so-called Feast or Mass of the Holy Innocents directly within the Christmas season, all Christians are asked to remember innocent victims—anywhere and everywhere, even as we celebrate the gift of Christ’s birth.
In recent years, many Catholics have tied the day of remembrance directly to abortion deaths, but that has not been the historical focus. A typical mass would have included these words,
“Since the sixth century, on December 28, the Church has celebrated the memory of those children killed because of Herod’s rage against Christ (cf. Mt 2:16-17). Liturgical tradition refers to them as the ‘Holy Innocents’ and regards them as martyrs. Throughout the centuries Christian art, poetry and popular piety have enfolded the memory of the ‘tender flock of lambs’(125) with sentiments of tenderness and sympathy. These sentiments are also accompanied by a note of indignation against the violence with which they were taken from their mothers’ arms and killed.”
Especially, “[i]n our own times, children suffer innumerable forms of violence which threaten their lives, dignity and right to education. On this day, it is appropriate to recall the vast host of children not yet born who have been killed under the cover of laws permitting abortion, which is an abominable crime. Mindful of these specific problems, popular piety in many places has inspired acts of worship as well as displays of charity which provide assistance to pregnant mothers, encourage adoption and the promotion of the education of children.”
Finally, “[a]s recorded in the gospel of Matthew … after the visit of the Magi, Herod, in rage and jealousy, slaughtered all the baby boys in Bethlehem and surrounding countryside in an attempt to destroy his perceived rival, the infant Messiah. These ‘innocents’ are honored by the Church as martyrs.”
FOCUS HAS ALWAYS BEEN ON THOSE BEING SLAUGHTERED
As noted above, abortion-opponents have tried to take over this particular memory of the slaughter of children, i.e. as shared in Matthew. This has been only partially-acceptable appropriation of a day that should be meditative and contemplative for all in this planet who could do much more to stop innocent blood from being shed—any where, any time, any place.
The real focus of the Masses for the Holy Innocents has historically been on all the innocent youth in all countries where they are daily being slaughtered—regardless as to whether or not this slaughter is from saturation-earth bombings, lack of nutrition, abortion, or simple rejection by family or society.
I first was made aware of this wonderful Christmas-tide focus in December 1983 while I was living and working in Europe for the first time.
If you recall, that was the year of the arms-race run-amok. Many of us marching that autumn 1983 against the deployment of Pershing Missiles in the forward areas of the European theater were certain that if we did not stop the insanity, a billion people—including millions of children, would die.
Luckily, the Soviet Union went broke faster than the USA did… but that is another story.
Both during major anti-missile demonstrations in autumn and winter, I visited U.S. military installation near Vaihingen.
My first visit was to take part in the humongous human-chain between Stuttgart and Ulm in October. There were over 200,000 participants holding hands in a long line between two major cities in Southern Germany that October 22, 1983
Later, I returned during more somber Christmas-tide protests led by future-thinking “how-do-w- proceed-now?” Christians who were against having any more senseless wars in Europe
On the evening of December 27, many of us went to a Childermas—the traditional masses said (or even sung) at protestant gatherings remembering the Holy Innocents in Europe. The next day, December 28, thousands of more individuals joined our small church gathering to walk around the local U.S. military base. During our two-hour prayer walk, we put pictures drawn by children on the wire fence around the base. We also hung up dolls and toys.
The participants in that FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS reminded themselves and the soldiers occupying the base that day that innocents die—either due to war or due to military arms-build-ups, which misuse our earnings or savings and then impoverish us all.
In my entire life, I have never again perceived (or internalized) a clearer connection to how my nation (the USA) wastes so much money annually on things that go BOOM—than as in those hours when a few thousand of us hung up these various symbols of childhood on that U.S. military fence near Stuttgart, Germany on December 28, 1983.
On that day, I came to remember the deaths of innocent youth every Christmas season. In this way, I put my head on straight and demand right priorities for myself, my family, and my nation into the New Year. I would like you to consider joining and building on these thoughts this Christmas Tide.
MASS-MOVEMENTS NEEDED CYCLICALLY
As I sat down to write this article on the Feast of the Holy Innocents and other symbols of Christmas across space-and-time today, I came across an older letter from Desmond Tutu (which was written in 2006) for the FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS. I will conclude this writing by having you recall that great man-of-the-clothes’ CALL TO THE WORLD.
It is a call for an ongoing mass-movement revitalized cyclically through calendars with commemorations of victims and innocents who need a hand from you. Here was Tutu’s conclusion:
“Recently a painting by one of the Dutch masters called Massacre of the Innocents was sold for a record-breaking price at an art auction. It is puzzling why “a violent painting, depicting Roman soldiers knee-deep in butchered babies, carrying out King Herod’s edict” would fetch $116 million at a London auction, a record high for an Old Master and one of the top ten largest prices ever paid at an auction? Especially in a world where innocents are dying in their millions of AIDS! Of the 26 million people who have already died of AIDS (more than all the wars of the 20th century combined), 5 million were children. If we put our treasure where our heart is, then something has gone desperately wrong, somewhere…
When God pitched his tents and dwelt among us, he became a baby – fragile and vulnerable. Escaping Herod’s despotic regime, he grew up as a refugee – in Africa. “A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
Here is a bold and unprecedented suggestion… especially for those who are protestants and have a tendency to steer away from the “bells and smells” of high church tradition. Just out of solidarity, then, couldn’t we set aside Thursdays in some special way, between now and December 28th? Not just to remember the dozens who were slain in Bethlehem by a despot, but to remember millions who are dying in our time because of various factors – including state indifference and recalcitrant leaders who do not role-model what it takes to stop the spread of HIV infection and thus of the AIDS pandemic.
Here are some ways to do this:
• pray on Thursdays for children, orphans, and especially infants dying of AIDS
• every Thursday, do some special reading about this (start with Googling “Orphans” and “Africa” and you get quite a few items from CNN, BBC, the World Bank, etc.)
• make every Thursday the day that you engage at least one other person to raise awareness about this issue
• go without lunch and instead make a gift to a ministry for OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) like C4L’s
• dare it be said? What about fasting on Thursdays? This is more than solidarity – it engages the powers
Volunteering is a mode of giving that has to be encouraged more and more, in the light of “capacity shrinkage” in Africa, and the increasing need for “capacity replenishment”. But it is concentrated intensely around a trip overseas, at a particular season…
Observing Childermas could be a complementary strategy; a “long war” to borrow an all-too-familiar phrase. Are you ready to take action that is on-going and proactive? In favour of innocents who are either orphaned when their parents are taken by a pandemic through no fault of their own, or worse yet, born with AIDS? When top political and cultural figures promote behaviours that fail to dampen the spread of infection, and behind it the death phase of the pandemic, and the deluge of orphans.There are more and more people who want to do something more substantial than just making a donation, but they don’t know how. Here is one suggestion – choose a way to observe Childermas, and stick with it.
Wouldn’t it be great if this became a mass movement!