Given the horrific nature of last Friday’s events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, I know that many people will approach Christmas a bit differently this year.
The mass shooting of 20 children and seven adults has left our whole nation stunned and in mourning. I am sure that many of you have felt the impact of this personally within your own families and schools. Parents may feel the pain of the Connecticut parents and take a second look to make sure their kids are OK. Teachers feel for their colleagues, and wonder if this could ever happen closer to home. Children may experience heightened levels of fear and anxiety over what they’ve heard and what it means. There are natural emotions at a time like this, and we need to demonstrate special love toward each other right now.
This kind of incident seems especially cruel in the days just before Christmas, which is supposed to be a season of cheer and goodwill. However, I want to remind you that the very purpose of Jesus’ coming was to shine as a light in the midst of darkness, not liven up a set of festivities already underway. Jesus was born into a tough, cruel world that knew its fair share of violence, even toward children. One of the least-read Christmas passages is the story about Herod killing the children of Bethlehem when he was threatened by news of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:13-18). Because of one man’s insecurity, the infant boys of a whole town were wiped out. In supplying a quote from Jeremiah by way of comment, Matthew was essentially saying that the cries over this tragedy could be heard throughout the land and they could not be comforted — very much the case with Newtown.
A lot of people have already tried to interpret the cause of the crime at Sandy Hook Elementary. Several have cited mental illness. I am sure that the shooter was deeply disturbed, but what disturbs someone that much? The whole debate over gun control has reopened and that certainly needs to be explored. However, one of the most interesting takes on the whole matter was from Mike Lopresti, a sports writer at USA Today. He suggested that perhaps a contributing factor to the tragedy was an increase in rage throughout our culture: “You wonder if we have created too fertile a breeding ground for violence. You wonder why the predominant emotion among so many of us so often is rage.” He goes on to say that this communal rage doesn’t make murderers of us all, but that it may contribute to the rage of the already disturbed. (See http://usat.ly/RueUO5.)
In the midst of such senselessness, we continue to try to make sense of it all. I suspect we never will in a totally satisfactory way from a human perspective. But that is where Christmas comes in. In prophesying about the coming of Jesus, Isaiah wrote: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” (Isaiah 9:2)
The coming of Jesus was meant to not only help us understand, but deal with genuine evil. Because Jesus was born into a violent world in which He eventually suffered Himself, He is not afraid of those places now. Over the next few days, I think you will see evidence of His touch in the stories that emerge from Connecticut, just as we did after 9/11. He has a way of showing up when tragedy breaks out, and we need to look for Him and welcome Him. That’s how we can really celebrate Christmas, even in dark times.