Introit for Childermas (Holy Innocents)

Drache & EngelToday’s Introit is from Psalm 124. The verses 2-4.7: If the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us, when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Here’s J.S. Bach’s intonation of the Psalm:

“Wär’ Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit, So soll Israel sagen, Wär’ Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit, Wir hätten mußt verzagen, Die so ein armes Häuflein sind, Veracht’t von so viel Menschenkind, Die an uns setzen alle.

Auf uns ist so zornig ihr Sinn, Wo Gott hätt’ das zugeben, Verschlungen hätten sie uns hin mit ganzem Leib und Leben; wir wär’n, als die ein’ Flut ersäuft, Und über die groß Wasser läuft Und mit Gewalt verschwemmet.

Gott Lob und Dank, der nicht zugab, Daß ihr Schlund uns möcht’ fangen! Wie ein Vogel des Stricks kommt ab, Ist unsre Seel’ entgangen; Strick ist entzwei, und wir sind frei, Des Herren Name steht uns bei, Des Gott’s Himmels und Erden.”

Martin Luther 1524

“If God had not been on our side And had not come to aid us, The foes with all their power and pride Would surely have dismayed us; For we, His flock, would have to fear The threat of men both far and near Who rise in might against us.

Their furious wrath, did God permit, Would surely have consumed us And as a deep and yawning pit With life and limb entombed us. Like men o’er whom dark waters roll Their wrath would have engulfed our soul And, like a flood, o’erwhelmed us.

Blest be the Lord, who foiled their threat That they could not devour us; Our souls, like birds, escaped their net, They could not overpower us. The snare is broken—we are free! Our help is ever, Lord, in Thee, Who madest earth and Heaven.”

If you want to listen to an easy melody to sing these verses by follow this link:

Now there’s lots to be said about this wonderful Psalm. Allow me to point out some of the most striking points of this appointed Introit of this festival of Holy Innocents. The Psalms are Jesus Christ’s prayerbook. So if you have read today’s gospel from the evangelist and apostle St. Matthew in the 2nd chapter (verses 13-18) and then also the passage from Revelation 12:1-6.13-17 you know, how Jesus Christ was attacked by furious men – soldiers of king Herod – on the look out for boys under 2 years of age – prepared to rob, snatch and kill innocent infants right out of the arms of their nursing mothers. They were prepared to swallow these harmless babies alive. Terrible! No wonder there’s big wailing from Ramah and who’s surprised that Rachel doesn’t want to be consoled? (cf. Jeremiah 31:15) Her children are no more. They have been brutally killed – an innocent offering and sacrifice as Joseph and Mary flee with baby Jesus Christ to Egypt. A narrow escape indeed! He has escaped:  “like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.

The exiled and captive apostle St. John on Patmos sees these dramatic scenes play out as global drama that it is. It’s not just the soldiers and mercenaries of king Herod, but rather the old evil foe himself – the dragon from the deepest deep, the arch-enemy of God and all people, Satan, the file and foulest devil. He’s out to get the saviour, the messiah, who’s come to redeem his people. He’s the one, who sends out darkest floods and torrents of chaos to overcome, suppress and drown the holy innocent one: Jesus Christ, born of the holy virgin Mary + He’s gnashing his ferocious teeth, just too eager to devour the little baby alive – worse than a stinking hyena whose just waiting to gulp down a newly born lamb. (cf. There seems to be so little protection – just a manger, a weak virgin still recovering from childbirth, Joseph and a few shepherds with their staffs in the distance. Reason enough to despair – had it not been for the almighty Father, the Lord of hosts, the God of heaven and earth, who held his hand protectively  over  little baby Jesus – that he could sleep and rest safe and sound: Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. Well, the Lord was in control all the time – and that’s why Jesus Christ escaped to Egypt.

Those that did die there in Bethlehem pierced to death by those sharp swords or clubbed to death by the bludgeons of all the kings men are in the caring hands of the living God. Nobody can snatch them out of there. Their dismal and terrible death shows how real the danger and painful suffering caused by the evil one is. Yet, even if he can snatch us out of the protective hands and arms of our mothers and fathers here on earth – smash our heads against rocks, brutally spill our guts with swords and shovels, blow our hearts and inners to smithereens – yet he can’t snatch us from the loving hands of our God and saviour for he’s greater than all. Yes, we’re safe in his hands – even through pain, catastrophe and death – born in the peace that surpasses all understanding. Praise be to the LORD! 

In the end Jesus Christ will not run away to escape. When God’s time is ripe, he will willingly turn towards Jerusalem to suffer much, die and be buried amongst robbers, outcasts and the godless. He will drain the divine cup of wrath and drink the very dredges of God’s ferocious anger over sin and evil. He will suffer vicariously for us and our iniquities. He will voluntarily bear the punishment that was meant for us and suffer for all godless. He will take punches, hits, stabs and whips with fists, canes, staffs, thorns, nails and spears. He will be punctured, pierced and cut to spill his innocent blood – he the truly holy innocent – immaculate – bleeding to death for us and our salvation. Cruel and vicious mercenaries of evil, orgs and manifestations of their malicious master – doing what they do best: Inflicting pain, hurting defenceless sufferers and taking innocent lives. But that was not to be yet, not now when Jesus was small and suckling at his mothers breast – no, this shame and hurt was to be inflicted at a stage, when he was in the pride of his manhood. 30 years of age – then he was to suffer the greatest possible pain, torture and shame inflicted upon him – to pay the price of redemption, reconciliation and propitiation – not with gold or silver, but with his most precious blood and his innocent death and dying + Make no mistake – the suffering was to happen, when it was worst and when he would be able to bear the worst brunt of it.

Right here during the high holidays of Christmas – when all the eyes of the world are on the manger in Bethlehem and we are celebrating holidays and high festivals – we as members of the Church are already focussed on Jerusalem and finally Golgotha. That’s Jesus’ destination and goal – his final glorification – his mission at last accomplished and finished to the honour and glory of our heavenly father.

And you know, that really gives the proper weight and profound depth to the holy high holidays of Christmas, which otherwise would really just be a sentimental party, where we close our eyes, ears and mouths to the real world for a few hours and perhaps days – if we’re lucky. Christmas is much more that that – and the gospel of Jesus Christ too. He’s truly the Messiah promised by the prophets of old and also the saviour of the world – the Light of the world – especially for those, who are sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. Praise be to the triune LORD and GOD – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – now and forever. Amen.

Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise not by speaking but by dying. Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith that we profess with our lips; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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