There’s no script for how to respond to an event like the murder of 27 people, including 20 6-7 year olds. And if any of us think we are going to come up with something that will fix or explain what happened in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday or if you think I’m going to provide either of those in this blog, we might just as well stop before we begin.
And yet, through the tears, the yelling, the disoriented silence, and maybe even the fear, we don’t have much choice but to go on living in a world where adults and children are killed. And not only that, but for Christians who follow the liturgical year, last Sunday was the 3rd Sunday of Advent, traditionally the Sunday of “Joy.” At first thought, it almost seemed cruel to me as I read the news last Friday and then went back to preparing for Sunday morning. This tragedy seems maddeningly out-of-place at anytime, but especially in the holiday season, especially in the Advent week of Joy.
I don’t have any words that will fix or explain anything this morning, but I will simply draw on one observation from one of the many articles I read over the last couple days concerning the shooting. What happened on Friday is, in fact, as intimately connected to the Christmas story as anything else we do during this season. We need only read a few verses past Jesus’ birth before we arrive at the story of another massacre of children intended to stifle the work of God.
As Christians, we might be horrified by Friday’s events, or saddened, or angered, or moved with compassion, or even moved to take some sort of action. But we should not be surprised. No matter how much we try to shield ourselves from this reality, evil is an active and pervasive reality in the world in which we live. And that is not to make any judgments on Adam Lanza. We don’t know him. But we can say that what happened in Newtown was evil. It was unjust. It was not what God desires for the world. And we should feel angry and sad.
God did not become flesh in spite of things like this, but because of them. And God did not avoid things like this, but marched directly into them. The Bible tells us that God did this because Love is greater than evil, and it is when evil is at its worst that Love shows itself most strong. This is the Story of Jesus. It is not G-rated or warm and fuzzy. It is radical; it is hard; and it is sometimes hard to believe.
On Friday, I thought to myself, “It’s tough to face God in this moment for me. I can only imagine how difficult it might be for some of the children’s and teachers’ families.” How could God allow such a thing? How can we say that God is King when things like this happen in the world he is supposedly ruling over?
But what is the alternative? We might not understand or even like or agree with how God chooses to be King sometimes. And yet, where else can we go? Where else can we possibly find hope that there might be some sort of comfort or redemption or justice? Apart from God, what other grounds do we have to call this act evil? And how else do we explain the conviction in our hearts that says, ”This is wrong. And Someone should make it right”?
I do think this is a time where we need to talk about gun control because legislation might help. Maybe it’s a time to look at security in our schools, though most schools already have measures in place. But our best efforts at legislation and self-protection will not prevent evil. Though we yearn to be in control, and we think that we can prevent evil, we cannot. It will happen. Neither passing laws nor increasing security nor keeping our kids home from school will allow us to avoid evil and its effects. As Christians, it is our calling to, like Jesus, march boldly into the face of evil bearing God’s greater Love, no matter what the cost to us. To weep with those who weep when evil strikes in our neighborhoods. To step out of our comfort zones and befriend and to love outcasts like Adam Lanza even when they might be the hardest to love. To make it a priority to know our neighbors, to be aware of their struggles, and to be willing to step in and bear their burdens before it turns into something like this. Whatever it takes, to march into the heart of evil and pain and brokenness, bearing the love of Christ in places where it is most desperately needed.
In our congregation, we went ahead and gathered around the Advent Wreath on Sunday and lit our Advent Candle of Joy (after I spoke mostly these same words). It was not an effort to pretend that everything is ok, nor to suggest that Christians should always feel joyful. We lit the Joy Candle as a sign of our conviction that Love has taken evil’s best shot on the Cross of Jesus Christ, and has risen victoriously. We lit the Joy Candle to help us cling to the promise that it is in the deepest darkness that God’s light shines forth. We lit the Joy Candle as a defiant prayer that the long-expected Jesus has come and will come to release us from our fears and sins, that this Jesus is our Strength and Consolation and Hope. And that regardless of what hands sin and evil deal us, our longing hearts will find Joy.
There are plenty of other helpful articles and blogs on this topic and some not-so-helpful. Here are a few that I would recommend: