Advent: 21 December

Tracy Niven
Thursday 21 December 2023


We stay with Matthew’s Gospel for one last window on his infancy narratives.  We’ve seen his depiction of the Magi, Herod’s attempted deception of them and the flight into Egypt.  We now turn to the appalling narrative known as the massacre of the innocents, when, we are told, Herod “sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger.”  It has been all too easy for this narrative to lead Christians into anti-semitism, to associate Matthew’s account of King Herod with a general account of Jews and Judaism.  It is of huge importance to resist this anti-semitic move, and for Christians to acknowledge the immense damage done by such readings of scripture and approach to Jews.  My own visit to Poland this year with the Council of Christians and Jews brought that home to me more than ever.

What strikes me in the passage, given the world in which we live, is the ongoing persistence of cruelty, violence and abuse of power in many places and cultures.  This year we are conscious of ongoing killing of civilians in Ukraine, Myanmar (Burma), and Sudan – alongside events since 7 October, affecting millions of people in Israel, Gaza, Palestine and beyond.  The haiku contrasts the words used by those in authority and their supporters when justifying violent action, with the long-term effects on the people who bear the cost.

The image is from the Middle East, as a symbol perhaps of the world’s struggle to find ways of peace.  I took it in 2010 when visiting Jerusalem.  The building with the golden dome stands in an area sacred to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Aqsa, which remains contested and the source of volatility.

Our Calendar will not end here: the Christmas story is one ultimately of hope in the teeth of the worst which the world can know.  The mood will lighten.  But the Bible does not shy from depicting how grim life can be in the face of power.

Political ends
justifying massacre:
grief, unending grief


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