On Sunday morning, I offered these words to help our congregation grieve the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy.
Two well-known passages of scripture we read during Advent are:
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Isaiah 60:1-3
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
These texts remind us that Christmas is about light and darkness: Light from beyond breaking into the world’s darkness; God entering this world in person to show us why we have hope. Christmas is about the Light coming into the world.
On Friday darkness covered all of our celebrations. A thick, evil, unthinkable darkness as twenty first graders, six educators, and one mother were slaughtered, and the lone gunman then took his own life.
Our hearts break for the families of Newtown, Connecticut who are enduring unfathomable loss. Their loss seems even deeper because of when it occurred: at Christmas.
But tragedy and Christmas have always been tightly bound together.
Part of the Christmas story we never dwell on is in the second chapter of Matthew. When the Magi had found the Christ child, instead of returning as promised to the king they escaped to the East. King Herod was livid.
And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way…. Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” Matthew 2:12, 16-18
Rachel is weeping still and today we weep with her. Our hearts break for parents and siblings, for grandparents and friends, for the children and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School who are alive, but scarred for life. Our hearts simply break.
We weep and we wonder today. But these Advent candles remind us that faith is a decision: we choose to believe that the light shines in the darkness and we choose to believe that because God raised Jesus from the dead, darkness—no matter how evil, how deep—is temporary; one day it will be swallowed up and banished by God’s great everlasting light.
Until this happens, Anne Lamott calls us “lighthouses of sacred love.” Our choice to believe in mercy and beauty and community and Love-That-Will-Not-Let-Us-Go even in death, our decision to choose hope instead of despair, somehow reflects the light of Christ into the dark corners of this world. Remember this as you grieve. In a dark sea of evil, doubt, anger and frustration, you are lighthouses of sacred love.
Let’s take a few moments of silence for you pray, then I will offer a prayer for us all.
O God of light and life,
In the face of unspeakable tragedy, words fail us. And so we take comfort in the promise of scripture that at times such as this, your Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
Our insides groan for young lives senselessly snuffed out, for brave protectors cut down in their courage, for one life gone so horribly wrong. Our insides groan when we think of the ocean of grief that has swollen and will not subside. And so we pray without ceasing for the citizens of Newtown, Connecticut.
Our insides groan for a world in which evil rears it’s head, for a world so dark that hope, beauty, mercy, and love seem lost in the shadows
O God of light and life,
Let your divine energy vibrate through us—we who have chosen to believe that in Christ good will overcome evil, light will banish darkness, death will be swallowed up in victory. With your divine energy pulsing within us, may we shine like stars in the sky, reminding all of the hope that is found in your light, your love, your life without end. Amen.