The Holy Innocents (Refugee)

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

The poem from my Anthology Waiting on the Word reflects on the fact that today, the fourth day of Christmas, is the feast day of the Holy Innocents. It is the day the Church remembers the story, told in Matthew’s Gospel of the appalling cruelty and wickedness of Herod in ordering the massacre of innocent children, in a bid to protect his own power-base. Appalling, but only too familiar. What Herod did then, is still being done by so many present day Herods. This scarred and wounded world is the world into which Jesus was born, the world he came to save, and amongst those brought by his blood through the grave and gate of death and into the bliss of Heaven are those children of Bethlehem who died for his name without ever knowing him. But he knows them, as he knows and loves every child in Syria, and he says of them, to every Herod, ‘Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, ye do it unto me.’

You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above was created by Linda Richardson. she writes:

Last year we thought nothing could be worse than seeing the bodies of refugees wash up on the beaches of Europe. This year the awful news of the destruction of Aleppo and its people breaks in upon our TV screens and hearts. Sometimes we feel that our own personal safety and comfort should be denied, after all, with so many millions of people suffering, do we have a right to personal happiness? It must be a question that so many of us ask ourselves. Of course we do not have the right to personal safety and happiness but these events give us the opportunity for generosity and gratitude.

The image is self explanatory, a nameless and homeless family, and Malcolm reminds us in his sonnet that Jesus was born into just such a situation. There is nothing new in murderous power and bloodshed and we must allow the pain of it to sing in our blood as we pray the psalms on behalf of our refugee brothers and sister, “O Lord my God, in You I have taken refuge; Save me from all those who pursue me…deliver me.”

You can find you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

This sonnet has been adapted and set powerfully to Music by Steve Bell on his Album Keening For The Dawn. It was also quoted by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Christmas Sermon last year.

As always you can hear this sonnet by pressing the ‘play’ button, if it appears, or clicking on the title.


We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,

Or cosy in a crib beside the font,

But he is with a million displaced people

On the long road of weariness and want.

For even as we sing our final carol

His family is up and on that road,

Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,

Glancing behind and shouldering their load.

Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower

Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,

The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,

And death squads spread their curse across the world.

But every Herod dies, and comes alone

To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.



Filed under christianity, imagination

11 responses to “The Holy Innocents (Refugee)

  1. Lynne Schweizer Hudson

    Dear Malcolm,

    A friend suggested I follow you. Your sonnets and Linda Richardson’s art work are stunning and provide much richness to my days. I am glad and grateful I have been turned in your direction, and from you, directed to new thoughts and meditations.

    I have a small and rather wistful request. In late life I have unearthed a strong desire to write poetry. There are so many things in our faith and our lives that can only be represented by some form of art. Would you have any suggestion where to start learning? A book? A class?

    Thank you for your consideration.

    All blessings in the New Year, Lynne Schweizer Hudson

    Sent from my iPhone


    • malcolmguite

      Dear Lynne thank you for your comment. The best path to writing good poetry is to read lots of it. But it helps to understand and to tryout different forms and meters. A very good starting place for that is ‘The making of a Poem: a Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Evan Boland M

  2. Lynne Schweizer Hudson

    I live in Virginia in the US.

    Thank you, Lynne Schweizer Hudson

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Helena

    I find this poem and Linda’s response very powerful especially after the dizzy delights of Christmas celebrations. Much to reflect upon at the end of the year. Thank you.

  4. Joanne

    A good reflection. I would that the truth was a prettier painting. Difficult indeed. My mother remarked on the eve of the day of my ordination,
    “I hope you realize that if you truly follow Jesus successfully they will crucify you. “

  5. maryrobincraig

    I have just finished my sermon on this text. Might I add a quotation (with attribution, of course) from your poem?

  6. Pingback: The Long and Winding Road (Sermon) – Mary Robin Craig

  7. Brad Ratzlaff

    Hi Malcolm–thanks so much for the amazing poem, Refugee!–I hope to use it in our Carol Service this year (would this be ok?) along with the Steve Bell setting. I also love the Linda Richardson image–and would love to contact here to get permission to perhaps use the image on our Order of Service cover for the Carol Service. Would you have her contact info? Thanks so much Malcolm! I hope we can connect soon–Brad Ratzlaff, Music Director, Trinity-St.Paul’s Church, Toronto Ontario

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