I have a son who is eight years old, and my daughter will be five in April. As the images of the children who lost their lives began to pop up on the internet yesterday, it was all too easy to see my own children in their place. I do not think I am alone in this.
As I write this, it is eight days until Christmas. Most of the presents we have bought for our children are already wrapped and under the tree. I am looking forward to seeing the faces of my son and daughter when they open their presents. Many in Sandy Hook are looking at presents this morning that will not be unwrapped, and many more are probably dealing with a kind of survivor guilt, wondering if it is even appropriate for their children to open theirs. I have read that some people are taking down the more festive Christmas decorations. I think that is an appropriate expression of a shared grief; it is difficult to have a festive celebration in the face of such mourning.
This Sunday, it was my turn to light the Advent Candle at our church. It fell to me to light the Candle of Peace. I thought of the Longfellow poem, Christmas Bells, as I reflected on this tragedy, and I fidgeted in my seat:
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Is the story of the incarnation of the Son of God able to shed any hope in this dark world? I don’t think Santa and all his reindeer can, but I do think the story of Christ’s birth, when you whittle away all the lights and trees and presents and stockings, is able to bring hope to the hurting.
Instead of the assigned reading for the morning, I lit the Candle of Peace, and I read from Matthew 2:16-18. This is passage that records the actions of another mad man against children. Herod had all the boys under two killed in Bethlehem and the surrounding area in an attempt to get rid of the Messiah. Matthew summarizes the grief this atrocity brought very poignantly:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.
She refused to be comforted. The people of Bethlehem refused to be comforted, and who could blame them? Their children were no more. Many of us have read this as a part of the Christmas story for years, I know I have, but Sunday morning, it slammed me. Why is this included in the Christmas narrative at all?
I believe that Herod’s rampage is given to remind us of why Christ came in the first place. Jesus came because the world is full of tyrants and mad men. Jesus came because there is a real enemy who is shredding the hearts and lives of people everywhere. Grief is a thick blanket covering all the world, but Christ has come to shine light through the veil.
Christmas will come to Sandy Hook this year, but it will look and feel different than it has in the past. In the dark, every light seems bright.