The Fourth Day of Christmas

“Why did the good people have to die?” The question came from my 10-year old daughter’s mouth as I walked out of the movie theater with my family recently. It’s not really one of those easy questions to answer in the brief, 8-minute drive home. I wish she would have asked if we could go for ice cream, or if she and her siblings could stay up late before bedtime. Instead, we wrestled through that one as a family, trying not to extinguish all of her youthful hope, but helping her to see that sometimes, sadly––and tragically––death can come to those who are good and innocent. Which is exactly the focus of today, December 28, better known as The Fourth Day of Christmas in the 12 Day celebration, also known as Holy Innocents’ Day, or the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Before you roll your eyes, or are tempted to skip along to the next post in your feed, let me explain a little of the story behind the day. While fruitcakes, Elves on the Shelf, and Santa seem to be getting a lot of press at Christmas, the main player in the story has always been Jesus. When he was born in a manger in Bethlehem, a star appeared in the sky, so brilliant and bright and unique that it caught the attention of some wisemen from the East (most likely in the area of Babylon, also known as modern day Iraq). Knowing this meant the birth of a new kind of king, the wisemen took the long journey west. The only problem: King Herod (the Great) was king of that land in the east, and he didn’t think the country big enough for two kings. We know about Herod from many historical sources, not least the architectural footprint he left behind in Israel (examples: the Temple in Jerusalem, the city and seaport at Caesarea Maritama, the desert fortress of Masada, many palaces like Herodium, and so much more). He was a ruthless ruler who killed his own family members out of fear they would try to usurp his power. So, in reality, a baby (like Jesus) born in Bethlehem should have posed no real threat to him. Yet, he acted with his usual ferocity and ordered––to our utter horror––the senseless killing of “all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16, NIV). Thus, it is because of the innocence of those children that this day is termed Holy Innocents’ Day, out of respect for those who died at Herod’s command. And yet, again, my daughter’s question hits us square in the face: “Why did the good people have to die?” And that’s the (mysterious) beauty of what we celebrate during Christmas. That through the birth, life, and death (+ resurrection) of Jesus, we don’t have to fear. Cancer does NOT get the last word. Evil is NOT the last one standing. I’ll toast to that any day of the week, especially on the Fourth Day of Christmas!