This past week has been a hard one for our country and the world. While violence is ever present in our lives and we see daily reminders of how shockingly horrible we can treat each other, the events of Friday in Newtown shone a spotlight on just how deep our sin has cut us. In the aftermath of these tragic killings and many like it, there is always an over abundance of talking heads who seek to use the death of others to advance their positions. “Gun control” advocates come on and talk about how new laws would may have prevented this event. “Gun rights” advocates are on the other side of the split screen talking about how if the teachers had guns they could have stopped the gunman.
I agree that in the midst of this tragedy there is a calling to have deep conversations about guns, violence and the mental health system. Some of my colleagues have chosen this time as that time. Roy Howard, Pastor of St. Marks Presbyterian in North Bethesda, Maryland for one, made an impassioned response and a call to action against violence and calling for more Gun Control. Please email me and I can pass along his Facebook post of what he said to his congregation. Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, has chosen to use this situation to draw attention to his beliefs about abortion and homosexuality. For many Pastors, their judgment led them to use this event as a springboard for what they hope will be meaningful discussions about deep issues.
I had more than one parishioner say to me prior to Sunday’s service, “I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes today.” The fact of the matter is that the shooting and senseless loss of life in Newtown needed to be addressed. There was not a soul in the sanctuary that wasn’t looking for a pastoral response to the shock and horror of our time. I struggled with what the right response for the worshiping congregation at Christ Presbyterian Church should be. An added level to this was that in our eleven o’clock service we were offering our Christmas Cantata.
I decided that at this point in the life of our world, and in particular our congregation, that a political or social response was not the faithful action for me to take. Instead, I found it critical to encourage people during worship to experience silence before God. Our congregation is not known for it’s quiet demeanor. Weekly our “passing of the peace” is more like the mosh pit of peace. So gathering our community in silence was what I felt was needed. Stopping all of the talking and instead encourage listening, but not listening to the gory details or sides of argument. Rather, I hope that in our worship we were able to “be still and know” that God is God. The lectionary passage of the day dealt with our need to bring our lives to God and receive the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” There needs to be a time in our country and our congregation where we seek to understand, but this past Sunday was more about our need to seek something that goes beyond understanding, God’s peace.
I believe that God provided for that through our “scheduled event,” the Shout the Good News! cantata. In the middle of deep pain and the glaring presence of our brokenness the sacred story of promise and Savior’s birth is the greatest message we can receive. I heard many people say, “why did this have to happen so close to Christmas?” I’m not sure if that was a theological question or just a practical question because their family gatherings will be shrouded with the feeling of loss, but I think it needs to be a theological question. As a pastor I have chosen today to remind everyone that Christ comes to the world for such a time as this. In a world that is dark with sin and filled with death, comes one who brings light and life.
It is critical that we remember that even today we are blessed. The problem is that our understanding of blessedness has been confused with good fortune. Adam Hamilton writes about blessedness in The Journey this way:
“God’s blessings are not about ease or comfort, but rather about the joy of being part of God’s work, being used for God’s purposes and being accompanied by God’s presence, particularly in the face of adversity.”
We have been blessed to be a blessing in this world. I want to remind everyone that even in this adversity, our God is present and loving us. Our hope might be dimmed and pain is real, but God has not abandoned us. In this season of Advent I remind you of the great hymn we often sing. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. In that hymn we ask the very God of heaven and earth to come and be God with us. O Come, O Come, God WITH US. This verse speaks especially clear about how God works as Emmanuel in times like this:
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight.Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.