We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by the order of King Herod. Receive, we beseech thee, into the arms of thy mercy all innocent victims; and by thy great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish thy rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
-- Book of Common Prayer
The feast of Holy Innocents commemorates the first martyrs of the Christian faith--the young boys in Bethlehem killed by Herod's decree after being tricked by the Magi as to the whereabouts of the newborn Messiah (Mt 2.16-18). It is an ancient commemoration in the Church, dating back to the 5th century and observed by churches in the East and West.
On this day, we remember a horrific account of the abuse of children at the hands of the despot king, but let us go further and not merely remember it as a past event. Today the abuse of children is still widespread and its affects felt in innumerable families, communities, and nations. From the exploitation of children through the global sex trade to the thousands of refugee children spread around the world to the hungry poor in the shadows of our own church steeples, society continues to marginalize and take advantage of the least among us.
Like the children whom we remember, this day is often overshadowed and marginalized as many of us flow from the joys of Christmas to the parties of New Year's eve. Let us pause in the midst of our celebrations. Let us mark this solemn occasion and be ever-mindful of the continued plight of so many children still today. Let us never tire of praying and acting that justice, compassion, and hope might become a reality for the smallest and most vulnerable images of God in our midst.