Almost as soon as He was born, our Lord Jesus was under a death sentence! That's what the Church commemorates today, December 28, the day of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs.
After the Magi (a.k.a. "Wise Men") had asked of King Herod where the newborn King was to be found, Herod's fears and fury would soon be unleashed. He may have said with a good bit of duplicity that he wanted to "worship" the Christ Child, but really he wanted to slaughter him. Then, when the Magi returned to their own country without reporting back to Herod, the wicked king was even more incensed. This led to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, infants two years and younger in and around the little town of Bethlehem. See Matthew 2:1-18.
But we can rejoice on this day even as we remember the blood of these infant martyrs. You see, our Lord rescued them from this valley of sorrows, from the battles against sin, death, and the devil, and gave them peace and bliss in His presence. So, while Rachel (Bethlehem) weeps, the Innocents get to rejoice in God's unending love and glory. They went home.
That's our lot too, in the Christ Child who had to flee for His life before He could walk or talk, at least that well. We may suffer the valley of the shadow of death here and now, but for those of us who cling to the Christ Child and His cross-won salvation and life, we rest in the grand promise that one day we will get to join the Holy Innocents in God's unending, glorious presence. We too will get to go home.
This specter of persecution and death - this "death sentence" - that our Lord endures in His infancy would come to full fruition about 30 years later. The "death sentence" would catch up with Him on the cross, but He would actually hand out the ultimate "death sentence" - He would sentence death to death. That's the joy of the Holy Innocents. Even though they suffer senseless slaughter at the hands of wicked King Herod, they get to enjoy the fruits of Christ's redeeming work of bringing life and immortality to light.
In the same way, even though we must suffer our sins and life under the specter of death in this fallen world, Christ's victory over death, the very purpose for which He came into this dying world, gives us the promise of everlasting joy with Him, His Father, the Holy Spirit, and, yes, the Holy Innocents. So, today we thank God for the Holy Innocents and for our Lord's victory over death for them and for us. It's all wrapped up in the Newborn King, just waiting to be unwrapped, unpacked, and enjoyed for all eternity!
Collect for Holy Innocents, Martyrs:
Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise not by speaking but by dying. Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn Verse for Holy Innocents:
All praise for infant martyrs
Whom Your mysterious love
Called early from their warfare
To share Your home above.
O Rachel, cease your weeping;
They rest from earthly cares!
Lord, grant us crowns as brilliant
And faith as sure as theirs. (LSB 517:9)