Dear Friends and Family of Immanuel,
Tomorrow morning at our 10 a.m. service, we will have our Annual Children’s Christmas Pageant. As we watch the children of our church act out the roles of various characters in the nativity of Jesus, our spirits will be more than a little dampened by the tragedy that unfolded in Newtown, CT on Friday.
Like the rest of you, my heart is broken by the events that took place yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary—so broken that I didn’t initially know what to say. Like a colleague of mine, Roy Howard, put it, we have again come face to face with the worst that human beings are capable of doing—killing each other.
Somehow it seems even more horrific and awful when children are the victims. So there are no words adequate to give voice to the grief and the anger we feel; and certainly no words that come even close to naming the anguish of those most directly affected by the massacre: those who now grieve the murder of their children, parents, siblings, family, friends and playmates; those who witnessed the horror firsthand as it was unfolding; the first-responders and all who will be involved in the next stages of counseling and care. Their lives will never be the same. Neither, I hope will ours.
In the face of this tragedy, you might be asking, “What can we do?” The first thing we can do is pray. I trust you’ve already been doing that. If anything will drive us to our knees, it is the sight of children suffering. By the way, I am convinced that God’s heart, too, is broken by the events of yesterday. William Sloane Coffin wrote of the senseless death of his son Alex years ago, “God’s was the first of all of our hearts to break.” I believe that. I don’t believe what happened was God’s will. But I am confident in our Resurrection hope that death does not finally get the last word, either for those who were slain or for those who remain. As a hero of mine, the great Presbyterian pastor and children’s TV host Mr. Rogers, said: in a tragedy, look for the helpers. The helpers are where God is at work. One way to help is to pray—and in so doing to share in God’s grief, to align ourselves with God’s heart, and to inspire us to participate in God’s work of compassion, comfort, care, and action.
Faith and spirituality, if they are to mean anything at all, have to touch down and get carried out in the real world of real human problems—a world where assault rifles like the one that was used in the shooting in Connecticut are relatively easily accessible; where mental illness often goes untreated; where people have different and deeply held political points of view; and where innocent men, women, and children all too often suffer and die. In a world like that, we can’t just look the other way, resigned. A colleague of mine, Bruce Reyes-Chow, put it this way: “while the world would like us to be further driven by fear, to circle our wagons of like-mindedness and to retreat into enclaves of perceived safety . . . it is in times like this that we must be able to express our belief in God’s radical intentions for humanity: that we be a people who are driven by hope, that we extend our hearts and minds to the stranger and that we do not live to protect our own lives, but we serve out of gratitude for our very breath given by God.”
The passage I will read prior to the pageant (and preach on at our Immanuel in the Evening service tomorrow night) will be the story of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary in her tiny hometown of Nazareth, which includes her response to the news that she would be bearing God’s son into the world. “Here I am. Let it be to me according to Your word,” she said.
In response to this tragedy, what would the word of Love have you do? How can you and I, like Mary, bear the love of God into the world? How can you help a child? You may come up with different answers to those questions. But think on them, pray, and act.
Striving to Embody God’s Love, Aaron