Often called Childermas, this day on the Christian calendar has traditionally been celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It is a day that solemnizes the slaughter of the children of Judea by Herod the Great following the birth of Christ.
It has always been the focus of the Christian’s commitment to protect and preserve the sanctity of human life—thus serving as a prophetic warning against the practitioners of abandonment and infanticide in the age of antiquity, oblacy and pessiary in the medieval epoch, and abortion and euthanasia in these modern times. Generally set aside as a day of prayer, it culminates with a declaration of the covenant community’s unflinching commitment to the innocents who are unable to protect themselves.
Virtually every culture in antiquity was stained with the blood of innocent children. Unwanted infants in ancient Rome were abandoned outside the city walls to die from exposure to the elements or from the attacks of wild foraging beasts. Greeks often gave their pregnant women harsh doses of herbal or medicinal abortifacients. Persians developed highly sophisticated surgical curette procedures. Chinese women tied heavy ropes around their waists so excruciatingly tight that they either aborted or passed into unconsciousness. Ancient Hindus and Arabs concocted chemical pessaries--abortifacients that were pushed or pumped directly into the womb through the birth canal. Primitive Canaanites threw their children onto great flaming pyres as a sacrifice to their god Molech. Polynesians subjected their pregnant women to onerous torture--their abdomens beaten with large stones or hot coals heaped upon their bodies. Egyptians disposed of their unwanted children by disemboweling and dismembering them shortly after birth--their collagen was then harvested for the manufacture of cosmetic creams.
Abortion, infanticide, exposure, and abandonment were so much a part of human societies that they provided the primary literary liet motif in popular traditions, stories, myths, fables, and legends. The founding of Rome was, for instance, presumed to be the happy result of the abandonment of children. According to the story, a vestal virgin who had been raped bore twin sons, Romulus and Remus. The harsh Etruscan Amulius ordered them exposed on the Tiber River. Left in a basket which floated ashore, they were found by a she wolf and suckled by her. Romulus and Remus would later establish the city of Rome on the seven hills near the place of their rescue. Likewise, the stories of Oedipus, Jupiter, Poseidon, and Hephaistos, were are victims of failed infanticides.
Because they had been mired by the minions of sin and death, it was as instinctive as the autumn harvest for them to summarily sabotage their own heritage. They saw nothing particularly cruel about despoiling the fruit of their wombs. It was woven into the very fabric of their culture. They believed that it was completely justifiable. They believed that it was just and good and right.
The Gospel therefore came into the world as a stern rebuke. God, who is the giver of life (Acts 17:25), the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9), and the defender of life (Psalm 27:1), not only sent us the message of life (Acts 5:20) and the words of life (John 6:68), He sent us the light of life as well (John 8:12). He sent us His only begotten Son—the life of the world (John 6:51)--to break the bonds of sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:54-56). For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).