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December 2, 2022

Blest Are the Innocents

For those who use the lectionary, Year A brings us to Matthew 2 and the slaughter of the innocents. This is a difficult pericope and one that you might be tempted to skip over in lieu of Epiphany’s light. But there are important theological reasons to remember this part of the Christmas story and include it in your worship services. If you are struggling with how to do it, here are a few practical helps.

Both Noah Livingston and Melanie Weldon-Soiset in Reformed Worship 145 argue for making the connection between the events of that traumatic time in Bethlehem with situations in our own world. Hymn writer Sylvia Dunstan did just that in the writing of the text “Blest Are the Innocents” (c. 1995 GIA) which has been set to the haunting blues-like setting written by David Landegent and arranged by Albert Chung (available in Lift Up Your Hearts #108). Consider having a soloist sing the first three stanzas with the congregation coming in on the fourth. Not only does doing so fit textually it will also allow the congregation to hear the unknown tune a few times. I wrote a prayer to weave through the stanzas. Feel free to adapt it for your context or write your own.

Blest Are the Innocents

Let us pray in word and song, joining our hearts together as we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, bring our requests and lament to God’s throne.

Soloist sings stanza 1

God of the innocents,
      our hearts break when we read of the slaughter of the innocent baby boys
     in Bethlehem so many years ago.
We ask, why?
We wonder, where were you?

Those same questions reverberate throughout all of history.
Generation after generation of laments.
Generation after generation of gut wrenching cries
     that seem to go unanswered.

Our own generation joins in the cacophony of mourners.
We remember the unnamed but not unloved children of Indigenous peoples,
     children buried in graves that we have tried to hide, tried to deny.
But those who loved them, the communities where they belonged, cried out on their behalf,
     and now our own voices join with theirs.
Yet, it's not that easy as we come to grips with the reality that
     it was our ancestors who were the tyrants,
     it was our policies,
     our systems,
     our beliefs
          that caused their deaths.
Forgive us, O Lord.

We mourn yet again over the deaths of so many children;
     too many children.
We think of Ulvade, Texas where a shooter killed 19 children and 2 teachers
     and still politicians and the courts seem reluctant to do what is right
     and implement common sense gun laws.
We think of the streets and homes of our own city where violent deaths quickly add up,
     yet we fail to offer the resources and supports that could lead
     to the flourishing of so many.
We mourn for the innocent children who become the victims of war
     and then if they manage to survive
     too often grow up to become the perpetrators of it
     because they know nothing else
     because we’ve taught them nothing else.
We mourn for the children who die because of a lack of food and basic necessities.
     Meanwhile, we hoard the wealth of this world and deplete its resources without thought.
Yes we mourn the death of innocent children,
     but we need to take an honest look at ourselves and see the roles we play,
     the way we are tyrants both directly and indirectly.
Forgive us, O Lord.

Soloist sings stanza 2

God of all comfort,
     comfort those who mourn for their children.
Whether they have lost their children recently or years ago,
     the pain and grief is still a heavy load to bear.
Whether that child was unborn, still young, or a grown adult
     makes no difference to the parent and the hole that death has left.
God of all comfort,
     you know the grief of losing a child,
     be present in their loss in a way that we cannot.

Soloist sings stanza 3

Creator God,
     we have messed up the world that you gave us to take care of.
Sometimes we wonder what the future holds for future generations.
     We wonder about the violence.
     We wonder if it will be possible for them to flourish,
          to enjoy the good things that we’ve experienced.
Help us to do all in our power to make this world a better place for them.
Show us the dark places and give us courage to enact change.
May we all work to find balance and harmony within the created world once again
     so that the next generation and the generation after that will experience your goodness
     until you come again.

All sing stanza 4

Sovereign God,
     there is no one else but you powerful enough
     to bring about the change needed here on earth.
Where it is your will bring relief,
     prevent the tears caused by yet more deaths,
     wipe away the tears of those who mourn already now.
And if we should find ourselves mourning yet again
      help us to do so as a people with hope;
            hope in the promise of the resurrection when all will be made new
            hope in the promise of the heavenly feast when all will experience abundance.
Sovereign God,
      forgive us,
      comfort us,
      embolden us,
      support us,
      and be with us.
      now and forevermore.
We pray all this in the name of your Son,
      Jesus Christ,
      who though innocent died so we may live,
Amen.

Rev. Joyce Borger is senior editor of Reformed Worship and team lead for resourcing and worship for the Christian Reformed Church of North America.