With wreaths hung and lights strung, holiday preparations are underway.
Advent makes ready the heart to receive Jesus who brought joy to everyone in the world — except Herod the Great, king of Judea, “all of Jerusalem,” the chief priests, scribes and the families of thousands of male children who were murdered in search of him.
Jesus’ birth announcement received mixed reviews. Consequently, any retelling of his story should bear witness to grief as some people will experience it this Christmas season.
While Christians prepare to celebrate the arrival of Mary’s baby, I cannot help but think of Rachel’s children for whom she weeps (Matthew 2:18).
I am remembering the murder of 19 children and two of their teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and the record-breaking number of school shootings this year: 287 at the time of this writing.
The remains of Indigenous children are still being discovered, and residents in Gulfport, Mississippi, are protesting the death of 15-year-old Jaheim McMillan after an encounter with a still unidentified police officer.
The “massacre of innocents” described in Matthew’s Gospel (2:13-18) is considered by many scholars as folklore, save a single reference from fifth century Roman scholar Macrobius: “On hearing that the son of Herod, king of the Jews, had been slain when Herod ordered that all boys in Syria under the age of two be killed, [Augustus] said, ‘It’s better to be Herod’s pig than his son.’”
Instead, these scholars believe that it speaks more to Herod’s reputation of violence than to an actual event and is likely modeled after Pharaoh’s attempt to murder the Hebrew children as recorded in Exodus (1:15-22).
Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses. “When readers finish the infancy narrative, they have been given a whole Old Testament background from the Law and the prophets,” writes Christian Testament scholar Raymond E. Brown in An Introduction to the New Testament.
Whether a real or imagined part of the nativity narrative, the number of children murdered each year in America continues to rise. Frighteningly commonplace, how should we respond to this?
“Let’s boycott Christmas,” Martin Luther King Jr. said. He called for a boycott in 1963 after the bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the murder of six children including four little girls: Addie May Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Rosamond Robertson.
Sixty years ago, he called for economic pressure to be applied to local businesses and the government to demand social change. No holiday shopping. Instead, we want justice.
This wasn’t the first time and King wasn’t the only one asking African Americans not to spend during “the most wonderful time of the year.”
The Association of Artists for Freedom also called for a Christmas boycott the same year in protest of the church bombing. Led by James Baldwin, John O. Killens, Odetta (Holmes), Louis Lomax, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, they asked people to give to civil rights organizations instead of buying gifts.
Taking a page from history, in 2014, the Black Lives Matter movement began calling for the boycott of “white companies” in an effort to stand against “white supremacist capitalism.” It is referred to as “Black Xmas” and was started in response to the death of John Crawford, who was shot and killed by police in a Walmart store in Beavercreek, Ohio that year.
Frederick Douglass didn’t believe that there was anything worth celebrating in America. Douglass wrote in his 1851 autobiography Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave:
“The holidays are part and parcel of the gross fraud, wrong, and inhumanity of slavery… From what I know of the effect of these holidays upon the slave, I believe them to be among the most effective means in the hands of the slave (master) in keeping down the spirit of insurrection. … These holidays serve as conductors, or safety valves, to carry off the rebellious spirit of enslaved humanity.”
For Douglass, countless African Americans and First Nation people, the celebration of many, and in some cases all, American holidays prevents its citizens from diagnosing the source of the country’s social malaise.
Yes, Jesus was born, but children are also dying.