The gospel for this the Sunday After the Nativity is from the Gospel of St. Matthew chapter 2 verses 13-23, which is essentially a continuation of the story of the birth of Christ according to the Evangelist Matthew.  This Sunday gospel tells us of the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, the killing of the innocents in Bethlehem by Herod and Christ’s return to Nazareth. This Sunday is also dedicated to the memory of three ancestors of Christ, David the King, St. Joseph the Betrothed. his earthly father and St. Janes the Apostle, his brother.

This Sunday especially reminds us of the suffering of the Holy Innocents who were slaughtered on the orders of Herod when he was told of the birth of the new born King, Jesus Christ.

Suffering is one of the greatest theological and philosophical problems there is.  It is the main theme of the Book of Job, why do the innocent righteous suffer while sinners seem to prosper? The intellectual Ivan in Dostoyevsky’s Brother Karamazov thought that his atheism was justified because he could not rationally explain what to him was the number one human problem. How could God allow undeserved suffering, especially the cruel suffering of innocent children?

We know that in every age, including our own, innocent suffering scars the lives of too many people, children, the elderly, the poor, the homeless, those afflicted with devastating diseases and other persons who suffer from crime, war and other circumstances completely beyond their control.  The voice of the Righteous Job represents all the voices of innocent sufferers, rising up to heaven and asking: Why?

For Christians the most effective answer is the example of Christ.  Christ’s answer was not a theoretical one but it involved his whole life.  Jesus was the most innocent person who has ever lived.  Christ possessed nothing but love and truth.  Yet he suffered cruel persecution, torture and a shameful death on a cross.  He came to serve not to be served.  He reached out to all with wisdom, healing forgiveness and love.  But many reacted to Him with slander, rejection and murderous hatred.  Jesus’ suffering began shortly after his birth, when the cruel Herod tried to destroy Christ but instead took his rage on the innocent children of Bethlehem.

The suffering of Christ shows us how through faith, love and forgiveness we can overcome suffering and be entirely free of it in God’s Kingdom. This is the meaning of this gospel lesson for the Sunday after the glorious Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, when He said, ” I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven… the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child …” Matthew 18:3-6.

Let us also remember that this is the third day of Christmas which is dedicated to the memory of St. Stephen the First Martyr, who suffered martyrdom because of his confession of faith in Christ.  Stephanos means, “crown”, for indeed St. Stephen was the crown of Christ’s saints. O Holy First Martyr and Deacon, Stephen, pray unto God for us!

Christ is Born!

Holy Innocents of Bethlehem