How I wish that the Biblical Christmas story would come to the same happy conclusion as school Nativity plays, leaving me with a warm, fuzzy feeling! In contrast, however, the Biblical Christmas story continues with some scenes that leave me feeling sad and disturbed. I watch distraught parents with their small child, fleeing their homeland because it has become wracked by violence. I realize that Mary and Joseph had not planned or prepared their escape route. However, when they learn that Herod and his militia want to kill their child, they are left with no option but to cross the border into Egypt under the cover of darkness.
Herod’s threat is not an empty one: “he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or younger.” (Mt 2:16) Indeed, Herod is so cruel that it is thought preferable to be his pig than to be his son! Joseph, Mary and Jesus, therefore, remain as refugees in Egypt until they hear of his death. (Mt. 2:15) This Christmas I hear this same disturbing story echoed everywhere around me. Thousands of people in the Ukraine, Honduras, Syria and El Salvador, are desperately seeking a safe haven from violence in their homeland. Like the Holy Family they are forced to become asylum seekers, migrants or refugees.
While assisting at a parish in El Paso, Texas, a few years ago, I frequently encountered a group of unaccompanied migrant children. Their bright smiles concealed horrendous personal stories. Yet, they considered themselves fortunate because they were alive, had a future, and had hope. Some of their friends had been murdered in their hometown, or had died tragically on their escape journey.
During the Christmas season, our Catholic tradition invites us to hold all these children within our hearts. As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, we extend our care and concern for those migrant children in our world today who, like Him, are fortunate to have escaped a violent death. Then, on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, as we commemorate those children who were massacred by Herod and his militia, we recall those children who meet violent deaths because there is no place for them to go, nobody to accompany them, and nobody to welcome them.
As Christians, we cannot delete the scenes of violence toward children in the Biblical Christmas story, but we can help write a happier ending to the stories of persecuted children, the Holy Innocents, in our world today.