The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs
(I John 1:5-2:2; Matthew 2:13-18)
Gospel analysts easily show that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have different sources for their accounts of Jesus’ birth. Where Matthew situates Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem well before Jesus’ birth, Luke has them journeying there from Nazareth. Where Matthew tells of the magi coming to adore the Lord, Luke pictures shepherds. And where Matthew writes of the Holy Family in flight to Egypt after the birth, Luke has them going up to the Temple in Jerusalem. However, these seemingly divergent details should not provoke doubt. In essential matters the two evangelists coincide.
First and foremost, Jesus is born to Mary, who remains a virgin, and to Joseph, who gives him a name and a lineage. Secondly, Jesus is born in Bethlehem and then goes to live in Nazareth. Finally and significantly, both infancy accounts include a reference to the passion that Jesus will eventually endure. In today’s gospel the reference is more direct and ominous. The Jewish king Herod searches for the infant Jesus in order to kill him. Jewish leaders will also conspire in the crucifixion. The oblique reference to the passion in Luke comes in the midst of Simeon’s prophecy. He says that Jesus will be “a sign that will be contradicted.”
The Church takes up this connection between the birth and death of Jesus by celebrating the Feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen, on the day following Christmas. In conformity to this tradition we should temper our jubilation at Christmas. We must keep in mind that the mystery of the Incarnation is but the first step in Jesus’ complete sacrifice of himself to deliver us from sin and death. Also, the suffering of the innocent martyrs remembered today should remind us to be ready to suffer with Jesus so that we might rise with him to glory.