Within hours after I posted my last entry with a call to sing and rejoice, the entire nation was felled with the news of the slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Connecticut. Once again there were no words adequate, and there were too many inadequate ones. In my grief I felt catapulted ahead in the church calendar to Dec. 28, the day of remembering the slaughter of the innocents, those little ones, just mentioned just once in the gospel, who somehow posed a threat to King Herod in his megalomania. How could I sing God’s song in this all too familiar land of violent killing and random acts of hatred?
Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child, by, by, lully, lullay. Herod the king in his raging, charged he hath this day his men of might, in his own sight, all children young to slay. (C0ventry Carol, 15th Century)
The old carol reminded me that the Light of Christ comes into broken and heart-broken world. This week’s rampage was not the first infanticide about which we know. Moses, the leader of the exodus, was born in the midst of an order to kill all the baby boys. Jeremiah reminds us that Rachel was weeping for her children and could not be comforted. The birth of Jesus was surrounded by slaughter and mayhem, prompting Mary and Joseph to flee into Egypt: different times, different forces of destruction, but the same wailing and mourning which we have witnessed and joined this past week, while we have wept for the little ones whose lives have ended too soon. I reminded myself that the reason as one who follows Christ needs to have hope for a savior is because of the crushing and random sadness and cruelty in the world.
In my denominational hymnbook, just about to be made redundant this coming year, I, who have used it intensely from cover to ever since its publication in 1990, found a carol that was brand new to me. It is located in this Christmas narrative of Herod’s jealousy and fear:
In Bethlehem Was Born a Babe
v.2: The soldiers sought the child in vain: Not yet was he to share our pain, but down the ages rings the cry of those who saw their children die.
v. 3: Still rage the fires of hate today, and innocents the price must pay, while aching hearts in every land cry out, “We cannot understand!”
v. 4: Lord Jesus, through this night of loss shines out the wonders of your cross, the love that cannot cease to bear our human anguish everywhere.
All these verses lead to the last one which has become my song of hopeful prayer in this ambiguous and ambivalent Advent:
May that great love our lives control and conquer hate in every soul, till pledged to build and not destroy, we share your pain and find your joy. Rosamund Herlklots, 1969
Rosamund Herklots was the daughter of Methodist missionaries to India, and spent her life in England in caring for children at risk, especially those with spina bifida and degenerative diseases. She wrote hymns primarily for and about children–made in the image of God, glorious and frail, well met and vulnerable, healthy and broken. Her words are a template for me as we take the turn into Christmas.
It has taken me all week to prepare this post. I could not write before I had taken a certain amount to time to mourn and to lament, even to know the depth of my grief. But this week has ended in two consecutive days of living into a grandmother’s hope and dream–seeing her grandchildren be the stars (along with other 40 children!) of their school’s holiday programs, singing “Peace is caring, peace is sharing, peace is filling the world with love!! and “We wish you peace and love and a happy new year!” As I pray for my own little ones and the children of our world, I not only pray that they will be protected from harm, but that they will grow into becoming God’s peacemakers, filling the world with love.
And as I pray, I begin, through my tears in the wake of last Friday’s horror, to discern where and how I am to act for things that make for that peace–for responsible weapons regulation, for thoughtful and accessible health care, for support and counsel for families who are overwhelmed with the needs of troubled children, for faith communities seeking to be agencies of grace where such sorrow has befallen.
O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; bid envy, strife and discord cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.