Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, 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 which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:  “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay. (Coventry Carol, trad., 16th century)

How odd it may seem that today we commemorate, in the midst of our ongoing Christmas festivities, Herod’s horrific slaughter of all the baby boys in Bethlehem. And yet scripture assures us that  “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Romans 8:28).  Herod’s worldly strength was no match for the might of the little baby born in Bethlehem.  Today I’d like to look at a more recent example of the power of the the Christ Child overcoming the forces of violence and death.    

Christmas Carolers by Norman Rockwell, 1923

But let’s start with music. One of the glories of the Christmas Season is the music.  I don’t mean the schlocky secular music that’s blasted through the public address systems of retail establishments from Halloween until the close of business on December 24th.  I’m referring to the rich and inspiring treasury of beautiful songs celebrating, sometimes with a depth of religious insight, the birth of the Lord of the Universe as a little baby.  These true Christmas songs are well-known even to non-Christians, many of whom not only enjoy them, but are actually moved by the sacred story they tell. I once attended a concert in which the Jewish singer Neil Diamond (yes, this was some years ago) gave very spirited performances of the deeply religious Christmas songs “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night.”  More recently, I’ve heard a well-known radio commentator, who is also Jewish, talk about how moved he is by many of these very Christian songs. I’ve always made of point of including a video clip of one of these sacred Christmas songs in every one of my posts during the Christmas Season (a task that is rather more difficult this year now that I’ve sworn off YouTube, along with Google and all its works and promises).  My goal is to preserve and promote this music not only because it’s traditional, beautiful, and moving, but also because of it’s evangelical power.

I ran across an eloquent witness to that power a few years ago in an article on the  Lifesitenews.com site, “Pro-life Christmas carolers save six babies in Orlando, more in other areas by touching hearts with their singing”. The piece details some amazing rescues of unborn children, not only in Florida, but across the country:

Pro-Life Action League Executive Director Eric Scheidler described for LifeSiteNews how three different couples turned around and walked away from abortion this year as carolers sang outside Family Planning Associates abortion center in San Bernardino, California.

Pro-lifers sing Christmas carols outside an abortion facility in Tempe, Arizona (LifeSite.com photo)

A compelling feature of the story is that the Christmas Carols themselves seem to have been the decisive factor in changing the minds of people who had come to the clinics intent on aborting a child:

. . . At least one couple was greatly moved by the hymns.

“What impressed me about this report is they actually stopped to tell the caroler group that they changed their mind,” Scheidler stated.

“The couple told them, ‘It was because of your caroling that we decided to keep our baby,’” he said. “The singing was the only thing that happened to change their mind.”

A group in Illinois reports similar results:

“We’re having a baby! We changed our minds,” a woman called out joyfully to Northwest Families for Life group caroling Tuesday, December 20, in conjunction with Pro-Life Action League’s “Peace in the Womb” Caroling Days in Wood Dale, Ill.

When they met the couple at the car, the group’s co-founder, Maria Goldstein, told LifeSiteNews, the man said to them with a big smile on his face, “Thank you. You’re doing a great job!”  

“What exactly was the “great job” we did?” Goldstein said. “We didn’t counsel them on the way in; we didn’t talk them out of the abortion; we weren’t able to show them pictures of developing babies.”  

“All we did was show up, pray, and sing,” she continued. “Maybe they heard our carols inside and felt God tug at their hearts. I guess that really is a “great job!” We got to bring the power of God to this dark place. God is good.

Icon of the Holy Innocents with Christ in Heaven

     God is indeed good.  These stories of the babies saved by carolers cast an interesting light on both the Nativity of Jesus and today’s Feast of the Holy Innocents.  The Incarnation and Nativity came about because, while our efforts are necessary  – “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17) – they are not sufficient.  In the end, we can’t save ourselves, or anyone else, by our own efforts alone: only the power of God can do that.  In the Life Site story, the Holy Spirit working through sacred Christmas songs changed hearts that were not moved by human arguments.

     The fate of the children killed by Herod’s soldiers in Bethlehem likewise illustrates this point.  Nobody was able to save them from unjust slaughter, they were too young to have any intellectual knowledge of God, and, since Jesus himself was still a baby, baptism was not available to them.  And yet the Church assures us that these little ones did not die in vain, and that they enjoy the reward of Heaven (you can read a short, concise explanation here). They were beyond the help of human agency, but “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).  If we do our part, God will do the rest.

Features image top of page: Massacre of the Innocents, by Guido Reni, 1611

Music for Christmas

     An interesting note: at one time, the story of these poor murdered children itself inspired a large number of songs.  The best known today (the only one, it appears, that is still regularly performed) is The “Coventry Carol” (lyrics below), dating from the 16th century.  The hauntingly beautiful rendition in the clip below features the unaccompanied voices of Ragnheiður Gröndal, Heloise Pilkington and Björg Þórhallsdóttir.

https://vimeo.com/195491997

1. Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

2. O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

3. Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

4. Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

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