Words cannot begin to convey the hurt in my heart for the children and families in Newtown, CT. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
This verse from Jeremiah was the first thing that came to my mind when I heard the news of the violent tragedy in Newtown on Friday morning. 27 young lives tragically and violently ripped from the time-space continuum as we know it. Like everyone else, I am struggling to make sense of this tragedy.
As I have watched the Facebook and Twitter traffic unfold, I continue to try and find some sense of peace and understanding. Rachel is indeed weeping for her children and consolation is going to be difficult. The Facebook and Twitter traffic began by offering prayer for those affected by this tragedy, then the traffic began to turn to analysis. Why did this happen? What can we do to make sure it never happens again? Will there be a time when it will be safe to send our children to school again?
The WHY questions of life are always the toughest, because there is not often an answer to Why? I know I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know what motivated the gunman to kill his mother then open fire on classrooms of young children. I know that neuroscience tells me that this young man of 20 years didn’t have a fully developed frontal lobe, the part of the brain that moderates impulsive behaviors. I also know that having an answer to the many why questions that are emerging from this tragic shooting isn’t going to bring these children back to their parents, nor is it going bring comfort to those who mourn.
As I look at the Scriptural tradition that feeds my faith, I am reminded of two stories. The first is found in Exodus 1&2, the story of Moses in the Bulrushes. Moses is rescued from death by the Pharaoh’s own daughter, and survives the edict for all male Hebrew children to be tossed to their death in the Nile. This is the first example of infanticide that I can find in scripture. In this story the faithfulness of two midwives, Shiphrah and Puha who feared God and refused to participate in Pharaoh’s plot. There is a sense of peace that comes from recalling this story in that God’s presence is with Moses and the Hebrew people in spite of the evil edict that seeks to destroy a people. God’s presence will be with those who mourn in Newtown, CT.
The second story is found in Matthew 2:16-18 – commonly known in Christian circles as the Massacre of the Innocents. This “Feast” which is also called Childermas, is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran traditions on December 28th. Sometimes in the Christmas cycle of the lectionary, specifically during year A, this is part of the lectionary during Christmas.
It is difficult to conceive why? Why would such a joyous holiday time bring up to our memory such a horrible story of the killing of innocent children? In the Christian tradition, King Herod’s slaughter of male children under the age of 2 difficult for us to comprehend. King Herod, fearing this “King of the Jews” orders that all male children under the age of 2 years be killed. This is a second example of infanticide that I can find in scripture. This story does not bring the peace that the story of Moses in Bulrushes does, at least for me. It is difficult to conceive how a King could order the murder of his own people. And it is here that we are reminded again of the words of the prophet Jeremiah and that Rachel Weeps for her children.
Rachel is indeed still weeping, still weeping today with the nation, and with the 20 families whose children are no more. It is here that we sit today. We sit today with a weeping Rachel. A weeping Rachel who refuses to be comforted because her children are no more.
As a childless mother, I can only begin to have a sliver of understanding of the pain felt by 20 families in Newtown, CT. I, like the rest of the nation, and probably each of you sitting here today, is left asking why? In this season of Advent, as we wait with joy and expectation for the coming of the Christ child, full of hope and potential, we are instead tossed into the ugliness of sin and human depravity.
It was this very sin and human depravity where the presence of God can be found. God was present as Joseph was warned to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt until it would be safe to return to Israel after the death of King Herod. God is present today with those families who mourn their children, a community that mourns its loss of potential, hope, and promise of the young lives; and educators, like Shiphrah and Puah sought to protect those young lives from the sin and depravity that broke into the idyllic life of Newtown, CT Friday morning.
So as I watched the Facebook and Twitter traffic offer prayer, I was comforted, knowing that we can mourn with those who mourn. That as a person of faith I can be in solidarity with those who mourn. That as a person of faith, there were others struggling with this dark place in the midst of a joyous season of expectation and the celebrations of Light – Hanukah and Advent.
We live in an age of analysis and pundits and we live in a culture that wants to fix things. We don’t like to step out of our comfort zones, and the events of Friday in Newtown, CT tossed that community and our nation who watched the various media accounts into a place of darkness and discomfort. So rather than live through the pain and find the deep healing that is available in God’s presence in the midst of human depravity we begin to analyze and assign blame. This human desire for understanding, knowledge and understanding shifts a focus from being able to find God’s presence in the midst of human depravity to one that wants to fix symptoms and assign blame.
Finger pointing and using this event as a springboard for a variety of social and political agendas isn’t going to bring these 20 children back to life. Knowing what the NRA thinks about this event, isn’t going to bring comfort and God’s presence to the lives of mourning families and a hurting community and nation.
The Friday events in Newtown, CT remind us again that we live in a world of pain and suffering, even as we wait for our redemption and the coming of Jesus Christ, Light of the World, during this season of Advent. After all, it was Jesus the Christ, who came to earth as God Incarnate, to show us God’s presence in the midst of human depravity. It was this same Jesus the Christ, who was a refugee from infanticide and is the same God that brings comfort in the midst of human depravity and tragedy. Our challenge in our instant fix it (mask the symptoms) and culture of over analysis and assignment of blame is to be present to those who mourn, to walk with each other as we live through the pain and in that experience God’s presence in our midst.
Our challenge is to live through the pain and walk with those who are also in pain – pointing to the hope we have in the redemption that is brought by the Christ Child. This earthly life still has pain, yet God is faithful still, this a claim of our faith, this what we wait for during the season of Advent, God’s faithfulness in the midst of human depravity and tragedy.
We can’t hide from pain…legislate it away. We can take a stand like Shiphrah and Puah…we can listen for God’s presence as did Joseph.
We can also be present with those who are hurting…take the courageous step of walking with them through the valley of the shadow of death. And in doing so…demonstrates the expectation we have for the redemption of the world we know in Jesus Christ.