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Daily Devotional • December 28
Feast of the Holy Innocents

James Cornwell
A Reading from Isaiah 49:13-23

13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
    break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
    and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child
    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these might forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.
17 Your builders outdo your destroyers,
    and those who laid you waste go away from you.
18 Lift up your eyes all around and see;
    they all gather; they come to you.
As I live, says the Lord,
    you shall put all of them on like an ornament,
    and like a bride you shall bind them on.

19 For your wastelands, your desolate places,
    and your devastated land—
now you will be too crowded for your inhabitants,
    and those who swallowed you up will be far away.
20 The children born in the time of your bereavement
    will yet say in your hearing:
“The place is too crowded for me;
    make room for me to settle.”
21 Then you will say in your heart,
    “Who has borne me these?
I was bereaved and barren,
    exiled and put away—
    so who has reared these?
I was left all alone—
    where, then, have these come from?”

22 Thus says the Lord God:
I will soon lift up my hand to the nations
    and raise my signal to the peoples,
and they shall bring your sons in their bosom,
    and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
23 Kings shall be your foster fathers
    and their queens your nursing mothers.
With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you
    and lick the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.

Today the Church remembers the Holy Innocents, children pointlessly slaughtered in a fit of pique by the authorities. A common trope heard in the face of death is, “It’s all according to God’s plan.” With all due respect, we have had 2,000 years to see the working out of God’s plan here. How was this particular gratuitous spilling of innocent blood necessary to God’s work? The horror of the slaughter itself seems to repel all attempts to settle the scales. No amount of good can be enough to “cancel out” the evil that has been committed. If this is the best Christians can say in the face of this kind of tragedy, then, with Ivan Karamazov, we should turn in our ticket.

The Holy Innocents teach us that our “planning God” is not big enough. God’s promise is not that the deaths of the innocent will ultimately “make sense,” but that they will be undone. Christians standing beside a grave should not shy away from the most wild and reckless of God’s promises: not only will death be undone in the abstract, but this particular death which we all currently mourn will be undone. In the end, we will not learn why the innocents “had to die,” they will be returned to us, not only as we lost them, but as harbingers of the end of all strife and sorrow. The nations of the world, in a cosmic act of reconciliation will “bring [our] sons in their arms” and our “daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.”

Faced with the horror of the suffering of Holy Innocents, we ought to remember that this is why Jesus himself died: so that these innocents may one day be raised up, vindicated by God, reunited, and their relationships with their loved ones transfigured, that their reunion will reconcile the peoples of the world under the Desire of the Nations, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

James Cornwell lives and works in Wheaton, Illinois, with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

St. Francis Episcopal Church, Potomac, Maryland
The Diocese of Oleh – The Church of Nigeria
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