President Obama should not have to give press conferences like this. Today was the most recent, and one of the worst, mass shooting in our country. Details are still not clear, but what is clear is that 20 children were killed. 20 elementary school students were killed. Innocent children.
We are in the middle of Advent right now…a time that is supposed to be dark. And when we have tragedies like this, we are reminded all the more how dark our world truly is.
On Sunday morning, we are preparing for our Children’s Christmas Pageant, as I’m guessing many other churches across the country are. On Sunday morning, we will have young elementary school children dressing up like angels, shepherds, Marys, Josephs, wise people and animals…they will tell a story of a baby that is born, a babe that promised peace. That promised to turn the world upside down.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned. A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be vast authority and endless peace for David’s throne and for his kingdom, establishing and sustaining it with justice and righteousness now and forever. The zeal of the Lord of heavenly forces will do this. (Isaiah 9:2,6-7)
Endless peace. That is what we wait for during Advent. That is what we wait for in the darkness. That is what it seems like we are always waiting for.
And we wonder where it is when we hear about these mass shootings. When 20 elementary school children are gunned down…we have to know, we must know, that something is wrong. That something about the way our country thinks about guns is wrong. That something about the way our country makes these .223 caliber assault rifles available to anyone…is wrong.
Where is the hope in these stories? Where is the light that we await, amidst this darkness?
I don’t know. I have to hope and trust that the birth of the Christ has something to do with all this…but until we get to experience that endless peace that was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, we have a hell of a lot of work to do. And all of that work must begin with prayer. Friend and fellow Presbyterian minister Jenny McDevitt posted this edited version of a Walter Brueggemann prayer that I want to end with:
Had we the chance,
we would have rushed to Bethlehem
to see this thing that had come to pass.
We would have paused at that barn and pondered that baby.
We still pause at that barn–
and ponder that all our babies are under threat,
all the vulnerable who stand at risk before predators,
our babies who face the slow erosion of consumerism,
our babies who face the reach of sexual exploitation,
our babies who face the call to war, placed in harm’s way,
our babies, elsewhere in the world,
who know of cold steel against soft arms
and distended bellies from lack of food;
our babies everywhere who are caught
in the fearful display of ruthless adult power.
We ponder how peculiar this baby at Bethlehem is,
summoned to save the world,
and yet also, like every child, also at risk.
Our world is so at risk,
and yet we seek
for this child named “Emmanuel.”
Come be with us, you who are called “God with us.”