This sculpture is by Sondra Jonson, a family
friend from Cambridge, Nebraska.
Friday morning a shot was heard across our nation that took the lives of 28 people in an elementary school in Connecticut. It was the second worse mass killing ever in a school in our nation, and it shocked everyone across the land. Out of the hectic rush of the holiday season it became evident that this is not the idyllic world painted in the Hallmark specials playing on our televisions . . . this is a cruel, mean, violent world in which we exist. A world in which bad things can happen in the flash of a moment to change all of our lives forever. The reality is far, far from the gentle picture painted in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon. When we slow down enough it becomes evident that this is a scary world in which we live in.
Think about it . . . we live in a nation that these sort of massacres occur on a regular basis . . . two in the past week alone—one in Oregon and one in Connecticut. We open our papers and read of wars in not one country, but in many countries . . . the death tolls are staggering. We read of the cruel treatment of people in countries which are ruled by dictators . . . the human rights violations that are happening left and right . . . it is a cruel, violent, and scary world in which we live. Such news happens all of the time and it is only a oblivious individual who is not aware of this . . . and, it does not seem to be getting any better.
It seems as if these vigils of mourning are occurring more and more often in our lives . . . so, often that many of us are becoming quite callous about it all. But, hasn’t it always been that way? I can remember hearing my father tell me that his father feared for his grandchildren being raise in the world in which they were born. My father said the same thing about his grandchildren . . . and, lately, I have thought the same thing for mine.
As we all know, bad things happen . . . they happen to both good and bad people throughout the world. In Alcoholics Anonymous, and I paraphrase it here, “Poop happens.” It seems to happen on a pretty regular basis and yet, we still have no way of explaining it . . . of understanding it. Even when we lift our prayers to God, we just don’t get it. And, as I said earlier, we are not the first to be thrust into this situation . . . we are just a part of a long line of those generations who have had to deal with their own tragedies.
What are we to do? As the followers of Jesus, what are we to do? Well, our reading this morning gives us some advice as to how we are to exist in a world that seems to be crazy. The writer tells us: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
How does one rejoice in a season filled with tragedy . . . a season of mourning? How does one lift up praise through the wailing and tears? Has this writer—this follower of Jesus—lost his mind? To rejoice when one wants to lash out in anger and tears at the senselessness of it all seems ridiculous. Seems worthless . . . futile.
As ridiculous it sounds, the writer is right. We need to rejoice . . . we need to rejoice now more than ever if we are to come out of this darkness and be okay. We are to rejoice for the children and adults who lost their lives in this senseless killing. In the midst of our tears we are to be filled with thanksgiving . . . filled with praise. The writer tells us, we are not alone . . . “The Lord is near.”
The season of Advent is always describe as a season of darkness . . . that darkness can be taken literally or figuratively. As the followers of Jesus we are called to journey through this darkness to the light . . . the light that shatters the darkness. We live in a time of great darkness as witnessed by what happened this past Friday morning in Connecticut and continues to happen throughout the world that God created. It is a tough journey that tries our hearts, our minds, and our souls. It is scary, and yet, we are called to fill it with joy . . . to rejoice! To rejoice in the darkness of the world.
We rejoice because “the Lord is near.” Because the Lord is near we should not be anxious . . . we should not be scared . . . God is with us. We are not alone no matter how good or bad life might be . . . God is with us. God will never abandon us. God’s goal for each of us is to never ever to be alone . . . to know that we are loved and cared for no matter how crummy the world might treat us.
I know that this does not sound right . . . does not make a lot of sense, but that is what we followers of Jesus are called upon to do and be. We are to embrace the peace that comes from being in an intimate relationship with God. It is a relationship and a sense of being that is marked by God’s peace . . . a peace that transcends all understanding. You can’t explain, but you know it and you feel it . . . even in a time of great tragedy.
We cannot deny the sadness and grief we feel over the event that took place in that elementary school this past Friday—those feelings are real and they hurt. We cry out from the depths of our souls at the senselessness of it all . . . and yet, we are called to rejoice in the darkness of it. We are to rejoice at the response of love and grace that has been showered down upon the survivors and their families in this time of tragedy—they are not alone nor are they forgotten. A nation—a world—embraces them, holds them tightly, and tells them that they are not alone. Nor does God hide in this time of darkness, God is there . . . shedding tears with us all . . . feeling the grief, the sadness of it all. God is with them and with us—none of us is alone.
My mother had a big heart . . . a heart that seemed to embrace the whole world . . . and it sadden her to see the darkness of the world around her. Yet, at the same time, whenever something terrible happened to me or the world around me, she would say, that this too shall pass . . . that God would be with us. For that we should rejoice.
So it is that we continue our journey through the season of Advent, the season of Advent . . . only now we step ever so gently as we have been reminded that this is a big scary world in which we live. A world in which bad things happen to people all of the time . . . a world in which violence is common place . . . a world that doesn’t often make much sense . . . a world that makes our hearts ache. The only way through it is through discovering the peace of God that transcends all understanding. We are to embrace such a peace whether we understand it or not. It is a peace based on the knowledge that God is with us . . . we are not alone. It brings out the best of us that others can see.
Yes, we cry for those who died in Connecticut, but we rejoice also in our tears. We are not alone . . . we have one another, and we have God. It doesn’t make much sense, but it gets us through the darkness and into the light. Amen.