The Christmas Story ‘Massacre’

by David Rowsome

The Christmas story is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful stories ever told but it has a sorrowful side.  This side is not often, if ever, included in Sunday School Christmas Pageants.  Nor is it ever graphically portrayed on the Christmas cards we exchange at Christmas.  And even the Christmas carols we sing are mostly silent on this.  So what is this sorrowful side of the Christmas story?  It is the account of the massacre of an undisclosed number of baby boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area where Christ was born.

The account of this lesser known part of the Christmas story is found only in the Gospel of Matthew[1].  The wise men from the east, referred to as the Magi had found the baby Jesus and had worshipped him and presented him their gifts but “having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”  We can only speculate what Herod might have done to the Magi had they made a return visit.

The Christmas story continues with another disturbing development for “when they [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.  “Get up” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.  Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.  And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus had to flee for their lives to Egypt.  They had become refugees!  It was Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus, to whom the angel spoke.  He had a job and that was to quickly get his family to safety.

What might have been their thoughts as they fled to Egypt?  With the miraculous birth of their baby Jesus, the visits of the shepherds and the Magi, the choirs of angels, the prophecies of Simeon and Anna in the Temple perhaps there were some feelings of bewilderment and dismay.  Why was all this happening?  Why did Herod the Great want to kill their little baby boy?  Was not this baby the promised Messiah?

But then the story takes a huge turn for the worse for “when Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,

Weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children

And refusing to be comforted,

Because they are no more.”

This rash action by Herod has sometimes been referred to as “the Massacre of the Innocents”.  Down through the centuries the horror of this scene has been depicted in a number of paintings[2].  Out of his lust for power and his own insecurities he ordered a state-sanctioned infanticide and gendercide.  Indeed this shedding of innocent blood is the sorrowful side of the Christmas story.  Read again the words of Jeremiah and try to enter into the weeping and mourning of dozens or even hundreds of bereaved mothers throughout the streets of Bethlehem and the surrounding countryside.

This part of the Christmas story gives us a glimpse of the depths of sin of which mankind is capable.  We don’t have to look far in the history books or even our daily newspapers to find other acts of human depravity.  Herod the Great had his own selfish political reasons to order the killing of babies 2000 years ago.  But sadly the massacre of the innocents continues today.  Worldwide, abortion is thought to be the leading cause of death with an estimated 42 million babies aborted every year[3].  In some countries abortion has taken a gendercide twist with baby girls aborted at a much higher rate.   And now there are even those in Western countries like Australia who are openly advocating infanticide up to a certain age.

This Christmas time as we reflect on the Christmas story let us not forget the massacre of the innocents.  In the midst of our celebrations let us -

  • pray for the ending of the abomination of abortion and a stop to the massive shedding of innocent blood around the world.
  • pray that the hearts of fathers and mothers will turn to the precious lives of their unborn babies so that they will cherish and preserve those lives regardless of the circumstances they face.
  • pray for our civil authorities that they will see the injustice of abortion and exercise compassion in dealing with this complex issue.

Let us persevere in praying and fasting to end abortion so that one day our sorrow may turn to joy!

[1] The second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew

[2] See this painting and more at

[3] Many international agencies would not list abortion as a cause of death because they do not regard the unborn baby as a person.  This figure of 42 million was shared a number of times by David Bereit, the founder of 40 Days for Life International , during his Life Breakthrough Tour of Australia 23 August to 3 September, 2012.

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