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The Infant Destroyer

Canisius | 31 December, 2005 01:18

The introit for Sunday with the Octave of Christmas (Vol. 2, Bk. 1, p. 341) is a quotation from Wisdom 18:14-15:

"While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy Almighty Word, O Lord, came down from thy royal throne."

This text is used in other traditional Christmas-time devotions. Sounds pretty Christmassy, eh? Here's the text in its original context (Douay version):

"For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne, as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction, with a sharp sword carrying thy unfeigned commandment, and he stood and filled all things with death...."

Doesn't sound so Christmassy, does it? It refers to when God's word (or an angel) came down and destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians. The Infant Jesus is the Word, of course, but we don't think of him appearing on Christmas morning and filling all things with death.

But it may be that this is a fault in us. Some ancient writers did speak about Christ appearing and overcoming the enemy, or of Mary destroying all heresies, etc. In other words, we tend to concentrate on Christ's appeal to mankind: who can resist the charms of a baby, especially a baby who has come to save us?

But save us from what? That is the question. If there is salvation, there is also danger; if there is redemption, there is someone who holds us in bondage; if Christmas brings light, it brings it to the darkness. Matthew's Gospel especially focuses on parallels between our salvation and the rescue of Israel from Egypt. We are like those who are under Pharoah, and God has come to save us: part of that salvation was the defeat of Egypt, and most importantly the slaying of all the Egyptian first-born. If we are like the Israelites, and Christ is God come to save, then we must admit some resemblance to the destroying angel.

Of course, it is quite possible to give this an entirely spiritual spin. One could say that Christ has come to destroy our guilt and our sinful inclinations, etc. In other words, one could turn the "destroyer" into a "restorer."

But I think there is probably more to it than that. There were those who trembled at the birth of Jesus: Herod and all Jerusalem for starters, but I suspect that Herod represents an entire realm of those who trembled (or would have trembled) at the saviour's coming. Perverse as it may seem, the infant Jesus inspires fear in some--the diabolical world, at least.

You know those big baby rattles with a ball at the end? My wife and I have long jokingly called that kind of rattle a "baby mace." Perhaps we need a new icon of the Holy Infant with a big rattle in one hand....


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