Reflection for the First Sunday After Christmas

Matthew 2:13-23; January 1, 2023

By: The Rev. Victoria S. Esguerra


The Gospel for today is the same Gospel reading for December 28th (2022) on the so-called “Holy Innocents,” or the murder of the innocent children as ordered by King Herod the Great of Israel, builder of the Great Temple in Jerusalem.  It was ironic that these children were killed in the large courtyard near the Holy Temple by executioners in front of their mothers who screamed their hearts out in anguish while watching these horrific atrocities.

In this true story, the three main characters or groups of characters included King Herod, Joseph the carpenter, the wailing mothers, and the innocent children two years old and below: (1) Herod, was the powerful king during that time of the birth of Jesus (ca. 4 BC), builder of a religious-political empire known throughout this region, and known as ruthless who ordered killed his enemies perceived to be a threat to his throne, including his wife and own sons.  He had a powerful voice which was respected and obeyed (by threats); rich but poorly loved.  (2) Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth, married to the Blessed Mary and adoptive father of Jesus, had no voice in his community standing; poor but richly loved.  (3) The naïve mothers of the children were voiceless, powerless, and stripped of their liberty to raise their children the Jewish way; poor but richly loved.  (4) The innocent children were deprived of life at the very tender age and separated from their loving families (endearment of their mothers); poor but richly loved.

A brief glance into their background reveals their strong points and weaknesses:

  1. King Herod the Great -- pro-Roman administrator for 34 years; built the Roman port, the Great Temple at Jerusalem (known as Herod’s Temple) and other mighty fortresses; superb diplomatist and organized the pro-Herod Jewish party (“Herodians”) to establish allegiance and bureaucracy; but created tension in his own family. He was admired but hated for his own paranoia; jealous of the birth of the New King whose news he learned from the Magi looking for the Baby Jesus. It was his grave intention to eliminate this New King by deceiving the Wise Men that he also wished to give homage to this Baby King. But the angels warned the Magi not to report back to Herod and so they took a different route on the way back home.     
  1. Joseph – 33-year old humble carpenter from Nazareth at the time of his betrothal to Mary; single and virgin (not widower contrary to Protestant biblical scholars’ claim); poor (by Herod’s standards) but knowledgeable in Jewish faith and spirituality; destined to be the earthly father of Jesus.  Though not interested in marriage because of his personal vows of chastity to the Lord, still he was called together with the other young men in the community in a selection process by the priests from the Temple to find a suitable spouse for Mary. (Serving the Temple starting at age 4 and now at 13-1/2 years old, nearing 14 years or puberty age, she was now required to live outside the Temple.  Under the custody of the priests as an orphan and despite her own will against marriage because of her chastity vows, she had to obey the wishes of her guardians.)

Born near Bethlehem from a well-off family with a brood of six brothers, Joseph, third in his family, began his holiness “in the womb of his mother” and grew under the care of an elderly tutor who provided his spiritual lessons.  Interested in gardening, Joseph was often teased by his brothers who tore up his favorite plants. A bachelor at 33 years old, he was summoned by an angel to go to the Temple and to wear his best clothes.  He met Mary on her 14th birthday at the Temple when she was presented to the community’s young men invited in their feast robes for a possible betrothal arrangement. 

Each youth was presented with a dry branch of a tree to be placed at the altar before the Holy of Holies, and to pray for guidance from God.  With Joseph, last in line, his dry branch blossomed into a white lily (flower) and a white dove descended on his head. Thereupon the priests announced that Joseph was chosen by the Lord Himself. Eventually, Joseph and Mary got betrothed as a holy couple according to Jewish ceremonial tradition in a rented house on Mount Sion. (According to Mary’s account [as revealed to psychic-woman saints], she and Joseph kept and maintained their vows of chastity to the Lord for all their married years together.)  


Not much is known about the mothers (or parents) of these children who were massacred except that they wailed like Rachel’s (favorite wife of Jacob) weeping for her children (Jeremiah 31:15-17). The entire Jewish nation grieved with the mothers of these children; the way they grieved when the nation Israel was sent in exile to Babylon.  


The mothers and the children under two years old were summoned to a large courtyard of a palace near the Temple where the mass killings took place. The executioners, armed with swords and spears, proceeded to cut the throats and to pierce the chests of the infants and children.  Their bodies were thrown into a pile as the helpless and frantic mothers watched, screamed, and tore their hair. The children were innocent victims and preys to the egotistical whims of a paranoid ruler.


The only person in the Bible with no speaking parts, yet the actions of Joseph bespoke of the grandeur of his character as the foster father of Jesus, as tested by the socio-political and religious conditions of his time. A descendant of King David and of royal blood, Joseph was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah that the “Anointed One” would come from the lineage of David.  Totally unknown and with no proud accomplishments to boast of, he was kind and humble, taking care and rearing Jesus like his own flesh and blood. According to Mary’s account, he was also a most diligent, compassionate, and caring spouse; both mutually respecting their vows of chastity. 

The crucial tests of his character came thrice, as recorded in the Gospels: (1) Affirming the faithfulness and integrity of Mary despite his doubts; (2) Journeying with Mary to Bethlehem during her most critical time of pregnancy; and (3) Journeying with his foster family under the scariest conditions of death threats ordered by King Herod.  

(1)Doubting Joseph -- even under betrothal and discovery of the delicate condition of Mary’s pregnancy, he respected and dignified her from social ostracism. The angel of the Lord gave him assurance of Mary’s purity and faithfulness.  (2) Journey to Bethlehem – was a test of faith and endurance when he and Mary traveled for five days under her extreme physical condition. Enroute to Bethlehem to be enrolled in the emperor- mandated census, they braved this hazardous journey with a few bags of essential provisions (food/necessities), a faithful donkey, and hospitality of people along the way. Their strong faith and the kindness of the angels sustained them in their difficulties.  (3) Journey to Egypt – a much longer route without knowledge of travel length and specific destination, it was the worst test of physical endurance and strong spiritual faith as they traversed the very hostile conditions of the desert while being pursued by the death threats from the soldiers of King Herod. With dangerous animals and snakes along the desert route, and no hospitable people around, they found shelter in caves or pitched their tent for temporary housing enroute. Furthermore, to give respite to the very tired donkey at times, the family traveled on foot (with Joseph carrying the Baby Jesus).   


The innocent children in the Jewish society became the target victims of a despotic ruler’s envy for position of power.  Voiceless, helpless, and vulnerable, the children then and now are still easy prey to the whims of adult paranoia and supreme position of lordship.  Used as instruments to escape from the hardships of life, many children nowadays suffer persecutions under their own parents’ rule when used as pawns in the drug trade or as drug mules, sold to prostitution and human trafficking, or become victims of incest and sexual abuse.  Many are abandoned on the city streets where they go hungry and live homeless; seeking to eke out a living for themselves in the company of other neglected children – doing misdemeanor acts or evolving into bigger crimes punishable by law. Without the loving care of parents/guardians or institutions to guide them, they become social outcasts hated by society. Whatever the sources of their persecutions and the means to resolve their problems remain as today’s challenges to society especially to the Christian community which is mandated by the Lord to love their neighbors as themselves.  


  1. God chose people to manifest His destiny on those with faithful hearts like Joseph and Mary. He provided help (through the angels) and actual provisions in their time of difficulties.
  2. He chose different forms or ways to transmit or express His messages – through people’s dreams and messages of angels; through natural phenomenon like the Star of Bethlehem.
  3. He allows persecutions but helps His people in dire need.  God’s unfathomable love is beyond our comprehension: He is both a God of Love and a God of Justice, as well.
  4. Tested by fire, faithful people like Joseph and Mary remained true to their faith; and God timely rescued them in their times of persecutions; while the persecutor (Herod) himself met his untimely demise.  
  5. The massacred children were destined to become martyrs and angels in the Kingdom of God. Their grieving parents (mothers) were consoled by the angels and the Spirit of God.
  6. As children of the Light, we become good examples to people who are in this darkened world (like Herod) to come to the rescue of present-day persecuted children; whether they are of our own flesh and blood (like the way Joseph took care of Jesus).  We are given the assurance by God that He will equip us with the essentials for physical and spiritual endurance and survival.


This Gospel story is difficult to understand to be a delivery of Good News amidst the start of this New Year; after the world’s suffering from the pandemic and economic chaos.  God seemed nowhere to be found in this darkened two-year wandering in this wilderness of covid journey. For the spiritual doubters, it was a time of searching for God. But for the faithful, we blissfully walked this journey in faith with our families; akin to Joseph’s example of humble faith in his journeys to Bethlehem and Egypt. Like the children massacred by Herod the despotic persecutor, similarly the patients who untimely succumbed to covid persecutions were weak and vulnerable. As the grieving mothers of the murdered children were comforted, likewise the bereaved relatives of the covid victims were nursed by the strength of their faith and assurances of God’s love.  So today, as we enter this New Year, we hopefully look forward to uplifting the lives of the present-day children who are persecuted -- abused, abandoned, or neglected (advertently or not), as we turn to the source of our Inspiration, Guide, and Great Provider, our Most Holy Triune God! Amen, amen, amen!



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