Monday, 18 December 2017

Massacre of the Innocents: Christmas letter from Kim Fabricius

Kim sent out this Christmas letter and I asked if we could post it here:

Christmas is, for me, a haunted house. The tree is enchanting, the ritual of gift-exchange delightful, the food cornucopian, the egg nog ambrosial – but the ghost of Herod is always crashing the party, the memory of the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16) ever souring my sweet dreams of peace. There is nothing so dead in all the world as murdered children.

The theologically feral novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago ensures that the spectre and the recollection persist. In a psychologically probing retelling of the Nativity narrative, Joseph overhears a conversation between two soldiers that alerts him to Herod’s diabolical plans and propels him to rescue his wife and child. In the aftermath, however, Joseph is plagued by the thought that he could have and should have warned other parents of the impending slaughter, and for the rest of his short life the father of Jesus will have nightmares that he is leading soldiers to kill his son.

This year’s Christmas painting then: Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Massacre of the Innocents.

Multiply narrated and theatrically staged – replete with marauding soldiers, protective fathers, distraught mothers, and solicitous villagers (and terrific touches like the soldier in the left background, opposite the cohort, pissing against a house) – the painting is particularly contemporary for being, in fact, a bowdlerisation. For scientific examination demonstrates that the original was much more explicit and detailed in its portrayal of the atrocity, re-contextualised by Bruegel as a 16th-century Flemish war crime executed by Spanish soldiers and German mercenaries. All too close to the bone for the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, who ordered his royal artisans to give such “fake news” a paint-over, airbrushing and altering the mass infanticide into a scene of more quotidian pillage.

Plus ça change, right? But hush, children, what’s that sound? Do you hear it? The Shaker of Nations confounding the nabobs of nihilism in Mary’s feisty protest song:

He bared his arm and showed his strength,
     scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
     pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
     The callous rich were left out in the cold.
(Luke 1:51-53, The Message)

A Christmas toast, then, to the exorcism of Herod’s ghost, and – it’s the 5th anniversary of the Massacre at Sandy Hook – a New Year hope for the end of Moloch worship and the downfall of his high priests Smith & Wesson.

As for Joseph’s guilt, however – let alone for Rachel’s grief (Matthew 2:17-18) – no false consolation. Rather collective remorse and mourning, and the perennial prayer of the desperate soul: “Lord, have mercy! Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

God bless you in the Child.

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