The Saddest Christmas Carol Ever

I've been focusing on Jesus these past weeks. I've written a series on the names He has been given from the Isaiah 9:6 verse, and also a two part series on Christmas traditions. We looked at the Nativity in art. I wrote about the Peanuts Christmas moment when Linus speaks the Luke verse during the Christmas play rehearsal, after Charlie Brown had asked in frustration what is the true meaning of Christmas. I've been making scripture photos with snow and mangers and peaceful flocks by night.

We all have been. Mostt bloggers enjoy this time of year to promote the truth and beauty of the Christmas story. However, there is a part of the Christmas story that is dark, evil, and often overlooked. But it is part of the truth just as much as the pondering Mary and the babe in the feeding trough. It is the Massacre of the Innocents.

Peter Paul Rubens
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

"A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."
(Matthew 2:16-18).

The Magi from the East had come to Jerusalem, inquiring of Herod as to the location of the child born, King of the Jews. King Herod was extremely troubled at this news and assembled all his own wise men to search the scriptures and confirm to him the facts of the matter. (Matthew 2:3-4).

Herod set up a wily plot to trap the babe and the Wise Men, but the Magi were warned in a dream not to return near Herod so they left the area by another way. When Herod realized this, he became enraged. Some translations say furious. Even those two strong words do not cover the depth of his violent frenzy. Herod was enraged to the point he was not even thinking straight. He was totally consumed with violent, uncontrollable anger.

Herod set a command to kill all the boys under the age of two in and around Bethlehem. Jesus was probably a few months old by this time, perhaps one year old. Can you imagine the evil depravity in a man so thoroughly deep that he would kill innocent babies just to protect his position? Can you imagine being a Roman soldier, waking up one day and being told by your legion commander to go kill babies? And you do?! Can you imagine a mother in her home, cooking the flatbread for the day and a soldier bursts in and spears your baby in front of you? For no reason?

The cries of the mothers must have been piercing and loud, rising to heaven as an unendurable shroud of grief.

When Jesus entered the world, there was joy! There was also sorrow. His incarnation was the beginning of sorrows.

Jesus is THE dividing line between good and bad, holiness and evil, humility and pride, grace and disfavor. He has always sparked joy, worship, gratitude in those who love Him. He has always sparked hatred, evil, and disgust in those who hate Him. He came to bring life (John 14:6, John 14:19). Jesus divides. Because He is life, the opposite is death. This is the first point.

Herod's evil was no surprise to Jesus. He knew what was in man. (John 2:25). We are all sinners. Though we may not all be murderous tyrants like Herod, the capability is in us due to our sin nature. Here is the second point. Jesus lived the perfectly holy life to become the sacrifice for sin, absorbing for His elect the wrath which would punish those sins. Though Herod was not forgiven, many other murderers have been. Tyrants, evil kings, killers, prideful holders of lofty positions...forgiven. Jesus came to forgive sins like Herod's. This is the second point.

The scene above by Peter Paul Rubens is hard to look at. He captured the fear and horror and frenzy of the most evil of situations, killing babies. Jesus knew what was in a man. Yet He came, incarnated as a Man(God) and lived among our evil for over 30 years. He prayed for sinners, He loved sinners, even Judas. He saves sinners. This kind of sin does not surprise Jesus. His mercy abounds.

We sing Christmas Carols such as O Come All Ye Faithful, or We Three Kings. We sing Joy to the World, Away in a Manger. Those are joyous and uplifting. But did you know there was a Carol commemorating the Massacre of the Innocents? It is the Coventry Carol.

Below is the US Army Band Chorus singing it in the traditional form, which dates back at least to 1534, the earliest date it was written down. Here is the song, and the lyrics in modern spelling. I like their version because it is sung properly, like the dirge it is.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.
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,
Charg├Ęd he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
"Bye bye, lully, lullay."

The mystery and wonder of Christmas... in all its aspects, both joy and grief. Thank You Jesus for Your life, death, and resurrection.