The festival of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs can be traced to the 300's when it was celebrated in Bethlehem. Germany, France, and England turned it into a public holiday. It was known as Narrenfest, Feast of Fools. A boy was elected bishop, sat on the bishop's chair, evil smelling incense was burned, and the liturgy parodied. The Synod of Toledo, 1473, outlawed Narrenfest (Reed, 475-6). So, over 500 years later by using this feast to commemorate one of our nation's most grievous sin, abortion, have we again turned the festival of the Holy Innocents into Narrenfest?
We must have because only fools make a point of having Life Sunday. O there are pastors who speak of abortion as one sin among many which of course it is. However, the magnitude of the crime against God and humanity is not dealt with. Only a fool does that. The title for a January 6, 2015 "Special for USA TODAY" is "Report: Bing drinking kills 6 a day and most are men." Have you ever seen a secular news source or even a Christian church say: Based on available state-level data, abortion kills 2,488 a day - and every single one of them is a baby (abort73.com/abortion)? "'Silence doesn't mean neutrality it means endorsing the status quo'" (Uncertain Saints,172). You know who said that? A Lutheran Witness article in 1964. It was about civil rights not abortion.
That's another thing that is foolish to do. Try to bring people to their senses by drawing the correct comparison of abortion to slavery. The unborn are regarded like slaves were: not people, in the absolute power of another, with no rights of their own. Draw that comparison and all you do is make people madder at you. They attack you for not showing enough respect for what enslaved people went through.
Back to my point. We must be having a Narrenfest today because we're fools to think anything will ever change. The Republicans, the party that has a specific Pro-Life plank in their platform, is in control of the whole government. And what's at the top of their agenda? Not the 2,488 babies being murdered each day in America but cutting your taxes, building a wall, and finding out what Russia did or didn't do in our elections. T.S Eliot said that culture is the concrete expression of a nation's religious faith (Mosebach, Heresy, 104). Well then, the faith of America's civil religion is one of human sacrifice. Eusebius, 4th century church historian, said there is no greater proof of madness in a country than human sacrifice (Eusebius, Oration, NPFN, 1, 600). But we're the fools for pointing this out.
Wait a minute. Isn't The Holy Innocents a Narrenfest itself? What's to celebrate in God the Son having to flee for His life? Jesus is 100% God in flesh and blood. Hercules was only 50% each, yet mythology says he strangled 2 snakes in his crib, one in each hand, when he was a baby. Now that's something to celebrate. God in flesh and blood needing ordinary mortals like Mary and Joseph to save him by running away? Not so much.
And even if I had said nothing about abortion today, wouldn't you have felt a bit foolish making a festival out of Herod murdering babies? Even 45 years into our baby-killing spree, America is still squeamish about babies outside the womb dying or those inside being killed when it's against the mother's will. Every news report noted with pathos the fact that a pregnant mother and her child were killed in the Texas church shooting. And news reports out of Las Vegas noted with joy that a pregnant mother who fled that shooting gave birth 2 days later. You see? The Church is foolish for celebrating God needing saving and God not saving the Bethlehem babes.
The Church historically connected this festival to Christmas. It was the last of 3 festivals the church of the 4th and 5th centuries established right after Christmas. The first was the martyrdom of St. Stephen, December 26th. The second the exiled St. John, the 27th, and Holy Innocents, the 28th. The church of the 4th and 5th centuries was free from the persecutions of the 3rd, and so Christmas had become what it is in our world. A time to party-hearty, as an antidote to that, to show the Church's Christmas was not the world's, they remembered 3 tragedies in a row.
We're linking one of them to the day it became legal in our country to slaughter the unborn. We're doing what Jonah did for Nineveh. We're pronouncing God's judgment on the country unless it repents. We're Isaiah, Jeremiah and other prophets who preached that the shedding of innocent blood pollutes a land and God will require the land that permits it, accepts it, let alone promotes it to answer for it. And this is foolish even laughable because nobody wants to be reminded that baby blood is being shed every day in our midst. Furthermore, we're doing the reminding on a day where God Himself appears powerless and uncaring. A Narrenfest indeed.
While we don't want to embrace the foolishness of clown ministry, let us be as Paul says: "fools for Christ." Let us embrace Paul's other words about foolishness as well: "God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." "The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom." "If any of you thinks he is wise in this age, he should become a fool, so that he may become wise."
Let's become fools then. Let us glory in the fact that God went all the way down into the human womb to redeem humanity. God knows what it means to be helpless. God gave up the full use of His divine powers as a Man so that He might redeem us all the way down to our very root, so that Christ's salvation applies "even to man's fetus in conception, gestation, and birth" (Chemnitz, Two Natures, 102).
What is happening in the Gospel reading redeems us. We deserve from the womb on up to be chased by murderers. Apart from Christ sanctifying the human womb by His incarnation, we are conceived in iniquity. We are children of wrath by nature, says Paul. The sin we inherit from Adam is real sin before God. God hates it. God is wrathful beyond measure against even Original sinners. But rather than pursue us with wrath and murder from the womb on, He gave up His only beloved Son to that.
Here you should see what men depict in their myths and man-made religions. Here is the deity who can only be placated by baby-blood. Here is the ruthless deity who roams the earth seeking to kill men. But the true God rather than seeking the blood of sinners like us, seeks that of His only beloved Son. And what of the blood of the Bethlehem babies? This shows God's wrath was real, and Jesus would have been executed right then and there. However, those babies weren't executed for their sins because those were all on Jesus. They died as martyrs silently confessing that the One who would pay for sins, appease God's wrath, and swallow death was here.
Let's revel in the foolishness of God giving up His sinless, beloved Son and choosing instead sinful, angry humanity. Let us revel in the fact that if Jesus had given up His life as a Baby, then only Babies two-years-old and under would have been redeemed. Jesus had to live a perfect life through the terrible two's, the preteen pushback, the teenage rebellion, perils of young adulthood, and into maturity or none of those could've been redeemed.
When God called Jesus out of Egypt, He came just like God's firstborn Israel did in Exodus. Read what happened then. No sooner had they come out then they apostatized, fell away, and rebelled. In Amos 5:25 the Lord tells Israel, about 800 years later that in their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness they weren't sacrificing to the true God but to their idols they had brought with them out of Egypt.
Jesus answers God's call out of Egypt in faithfulness. He never falls away, never wavers, never doubts. He is the faithful Firstborn Son all the way through adulthood. And this was in fulfillment of Scripture even as the murdering of the Bethlehem babies was. Why does Matthew tell you this? So, you don't think God's plan has somehow gotten out of His hand. It looks like a fool's plan to have God in flesh and blood chased away and babies left behind to die. It looks like Satan is winning. No, this is God's Word being fulfilled. God's plan to redeem humanity, defeat the devil, and destroy death is right on schedule.
We're told that God's Word is being fulfilled for another reason. So, we may know not one dot of an i or cross of a t will go unfulfilled. Those who have shed innocent blood will answer for it. They will not get away with it. And those who weep now for the babies lost will one day rejoice. Only a fool will believe this. Only someone who refuses the wisdom of men for the foolishness of God can be comforted here. For God's Word is clear the babies that Rachel is weeping for "will return from the land of the enemy."
We aren't fools for believing that God reigns even now. One of the traits of the true God is that He rules in the midst of His enemies, and He does so in weakness. The truth that changes hearts is not the powerful truth of God's eternal Law that all those who sin against life at its beginning, middle, or at the end will be punished. That truth frightens hearts, that brings guilt heavy and unendurable, but it doesn't change anything.
The truth that does change hearts is the foolishness of God: that He sent His Son into the womb to redeem all life. That He punished His perfect Son rather than punish the doctor who has murdered countless babies. That He shed the holy precious blood of His Son to cover the sins of the men paying for and pushing for abortions as well as those of the women who've endured them. This is the God who forgave Peter who denied Him and Paul who persecuted Him. This is the God who put away David's sins of adultery and murder. This is the God who put all those sins, all your sins, and all the sins of those killing 2,488 babies a day on His beloved Lamb who carried them out of His sight forever.
It is foolishness in the eyes of the world and even in the eyes of some churches to believe that God for Jesus' sake forgives so graciously, so completely. Let us then feast on such foolishness. Because such food gives us the strength to not only believe and speak the truth about abortion and forgiveness but to not despair when the Herod's of the world are on the march. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Holy Innocents, Martyrs (Life Sunday); 20180121