Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Massacre of the Innocents--Part I

By an odd quirk of synchronicity, I had 5 CD's in the changer and pushed the "Random" button on the remote control. This was the first song "randomly" selected:

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye, bye, lully lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
for to preserve this day,
this poor youngling for whom we sing,
bye, bye lully lullay.

Herod the king in his raging,
charged he hath this day,
his men of night, in his own sight,
all young children to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee!
And every morn and day,
for thy parting not say nor sing
bye, bye, lully lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye, bye, lully lullay.

Words: Coventry carol, fifteenth century

"Odd" because of the day, and the fact I had these verses waiting to be posted today. The story behind them is in Matthew. It takes only a few verses, and happens entirely off-stage:

"When Herod realized he had been duped by the astrologers, he was outraged. He then issued a death warrant for all the male children in Bethlehem and surrounding region two years old and younger. this corresponded to the time [of the star] that he had learned from the astrologers. With this event the prediction made by Jeremiah the prophet came true:
'In Ramah the sound of mourning
and bitter grieving was heard:
Rachel weeping for her children.
She refused to be consoled:
They were no more.' " (Matthew 2: 16-18, SV)

Did this happen? No more than the census in Luke that compelled the journey to Bethlehem. Why, then, did Matthew include it? I think because he understood: a child, even a two year old child, is not a symbol of power. Symbols, however, don't matter to Matthew. It is Matthew's gospel that applies the Hebrew prophecies quite literally. But Matthew also understood that there is no power, without resistance.

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