Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newtown, Yellow Springs, and Bethlehem

Like everyone else, I was stunned and saddened beyond words as the reports of the slaughter of Newtown, Connecticut's children came in.  20 youngsters died at the hands of one marauding murderer who killed his mother first.  We will learn more about him and the heart-wrenching losses suffered by families in the coming days.  I appreciated the governor of Connecticut's words, saying that "Evil visited" Sandy Hook School yesterday.  It was and is evil in our world that impels such violence and harm.  We must pray for the families who suffered loss of children, and those who lost parents, friends, co-workers, and spouses.

Even as those reports continued today, we left the house for me to officiate at the wedding of Matt Brooker and Hannah Lamos, two wonderful young people in our Grace family and students at CU.  It was an joyous morning, more informal than most weddings, and simple as could be.  The happiness in their faces was what I love to see on any wedding day, and their shared desire to exalt Jesus and celebrate with their families was a blessing to me.  It was a celebration with unmixed joy.

Matteo di Giovanni's "Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem", 
1488.  Note how the artist made the crime look as if it was in his
own time.  The innocents are slaughtered in every age.
What a contrast in emotions I went through in 24 hours:  sadness at the tragedy of so many in Connecticut, and joy at the sight of this newly married couple.  It seems almost bizarre that one can go through such a large swing in such as short time.  In fact, it isn't just a "swing," but rather the co-existence of sadness and joy in the same day.

Tomorrow, we gather for the third Sunday in Advent, with its theme of Joy.  We should remember that the joy we celebrate in Advent and Christmas is always accompanied, in this world at least, with the continuing presence of sorrows and sadness.  Even in the Christmas story, we learn of both great joy, as manifested by the wise men when they saw the star and it led them to Bethlehem, and horrendous sorrow experienced by the parents in that tiny village just days later.  It really was a little town, probably with only few dozen families.  But since Herod had heard that the future King of the Jews had been born there, he sent his soldiers to kill all their youngest children.  I just read this past week that it probably was about 20 children that died--just the same as in Newtown.

 By God's intervention, the murdering Herod did not find Jesus there, for Joseph had been warned in a dream to flee to Egypt.  By God's intervention, Adam Lanza killed himself before he could kill more victims.  I wonder if the families of Bethlehem ever knew why Herod attacked them as he did--there is no indication that they did.  The grieving families in Newtown will never know why their children died yesterday.

Such tragedies remind us of the destructive power of evil, and of the Evil One whose sole purpose is, like the thief described in John 10, "to steal and kill and destroy."

But in the midst of such tragedies, joys still come.  Messages from faraway loved ones bring smiles.  Couples get married.  Kids come home from school.  Families and friends get together at Christmas.  It is God reminding us, "Yes the world is evil.  But evil does not always win--will not always win."

Advent is the season of longing and anticipating the coming of Jesus.  That longing should get stronger in the face of heinous evil.  And it should get stronger when the joys that come our way provide a foretaste of what life will always be like when Jesus takes up his throne and kingdom here.  God allows both because they are the realities of life in a fallen world where the hope of redemption and renewal is offered in Jesus.