Today we remember the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, from Matthew’s tale of Jesus’ birth, who were killed by a paranoid King Herod. The most important reflection on this story has always been Dutch Roman Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx’. The set up to these words is his talking about the birth stories as post-resurrection stories (like all of the gospels):
Then nothing was too much. Angels, stars, wise men from the east, “astrologers,” but also simple people and shepherds, everything and everyone was summoned to offer praise to God.
At the same time, people felt that this Jesus must inevitably be a stumbling block for the powerful of the earth, people who seem only to be put off by other people’s goodness and therefore become aggressive. When pure goodness appears, without the sentimentality of mediaeval views of the crib, all the opposing forces of the earth do in fact join together. “They come to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matt. 2:13). Love is disarming. That is, people can be won over by it, or, it makes those who are evil even worse. The theme of the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem has more human truth than the historian can ever discover. Faced with love which shows itself to be unarmed—and not knowing that it is love—the human reaction is either unconditional surrender or panic fear which will do anything to strengthen its own position of power, even to the point of killing all young children who are two years old and younger (Matt. 2:16). Any threat, possible or imagined, is exterminated.
Love in fact becomes the definition of heaven and hell, already on earth in the midst of our history, and therefore for ever. The first generation of Christians understood this well…
From his sermon "God who visits his people," in God Among Us: The Gospel Proclaimed, pp. 11-12.