Although today is the Fourth Day of Christmas, it is not a particularly joyful day. December 28 marks the remembrance of the Holy Innocents, the male children aged two and under, who were ordered to be killed by the paranoid King Herod "the Great." Most Biblical historians seem to believe that only about twenty children were murdered as a result of Herod's inhumane order, but even the death of one child would make this day one of sorrowful remembrance.
Yet this event was foretold in the Old Testament as Saint Matthew tells us in his gospel, Matthew 2:13-18 (ESV), which is also the Gospel reading for this day:
13 Now when they [the Wise Men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, 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 that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
The Collect for this day from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
O Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths; Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy Holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today is also a day wherein the Church remembers those who have never had a life outside the womb through abortion. At the lovely California Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside is a lovely memorial park/graveyard with stones dating back into the early 1800's to the present day. And along one wall is a large plaque reminding us of the millions of Holy Innocents who have perished via abortion, reminding us to pray for their mothers, sometimes children themselves, who have also suffered, often for years and years afterward.
The "Coventry Carol" of the 15th century also reminds us of the slaying of the Holy Innocents which we recall today:
Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child
By by, lully, lullay, thou little tiny child
By by, lully lullay
O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we do sing
By by, lully lullay?
Herod, the king
In his raging
Chargèd he hath this day
His men of might
In his own sight,
All young children to slay
That woe is me
Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing
By by, lully lullay!