Tumbling in the Sand
The texts for Sunday, December 16, 2012: Zephaniah 3:14–20; Isaiah 12:2–6; Philippians 4:4–7; and Luke 3:7–18.
I have heard the news repeated again and again. 28 dead. 20 of them children. I’ve seen picture after picture of the events surrounding the tragedy at Sandy Hook School—the trauma, the tears, the shattered lives, the shock, the destruction—not just of those 28 lives but of an innocence, that while perhaps privileged, deserved existence. Don’t all children deserve the privilege of the innocence of life? Don’t all lives deserve to not arbitrarily be snuffed out by the cold violence of gunfire?
I confess that I do not really know what to say in the face of such senseless violence. I sit, my heart aching for the loss of those who are gone, feeling tears for the agony of parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, extended family, and friends who now have a massive void torn open in their lives. And I think that words are hollow here. I find the silence of reflection, mourning, and watching in the dark to be a more faithful response for myself at this moment.
And yet, while I sit staring into the darkness of the night, I realize that it is partly my calling to find words to speak and I find myself wondering what it is that I will say on Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of Gaudete! Rejoice! … of Joy. Which seems somehow cruel of the lectionary. It makes way more sense to use the texts for Holy Innocents day—the day we remember the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem by Herod and we read these words:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they are no more.
Using those texts I could see talking about the tenderness of hope that descends into our world full of power and hopelessness… I could speak of God wiping away tears with the wounded hands of a tiny child… I could speak of the faithful action of crying out to God, wailing out our anger and fear and confusion—and that God hears those cries and, with Rachel, refuses to be consoled…
Instead, however, we are going to hear: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”
How do we rejoice in a time like this?
Maybe we don’t. At least not in the make revelry, be cheerful kind of rejoicing. Maybe we don’t.
Yes, yes, I know. Paul wrote this from prison while he awaited execution. It’s not exactly like he was in a cheery place when he suggested we rejoice. Nor was the prophet Zephaniah, speaking to a people devastated by war and the domination of an external power. True, those words of a call to rejoice ring out of darkness even greater than our own. Still, to dwell on the tragedy is to see little room for rejoicing.
But as my mind wanders as my eyes catch the occasional star in the night sky, I find myself thinking about the video we watched this past Wednesday night in which Marlon Hall was asked, “What gives you hope?” … and he responded: “Dreamers.”
And then the psalm that night? It started: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream…” And I myself said that dreaming was the most practical thing that we are called to do in the Kingdom of God. We are called to dream. Dream of a day when we will study war no more. Where violence and sorrow and pain will be no more. Where God will wipe away every tear from every eye. Where children will play at the mouth of the adder’s den and fear no harm. No harm. No harm.
And so I stare at the darkness and dream. Dream of these things: when children’s laughter will never again be silenced by gunfire. When Rachel will no longer have to weep for her children. When there will be peace.
You know, it is those dreams that buoy the darkness.
Because, you see, they are not just my dreams—they are the dreams of God. And God’s dreams are promise. It is not as if this shooter has the final word or that the evil of this day could ever be justified or rationalized. It’s not as if this violence occurred because God willed it or stepped out of the picture. The creating God needed no extra angels and had no use for this destruction. God does not dream of violence and destruction—God’s promise is for this new heaven and new earth when justice and healing and love will have the last word.
It is this that gives me something to cling to in the dark. It is that promise that give me something to strive toward. It is that hope that gives me something to focus on as flickers of reconciliation and healing and justice appear like stars in the sky. It is this amazing dream that even causes me to rejoice in the night.
Thank you. I’m not preaching tomorrow, but have been stuck in my own darkness and needed to hear again of God’s presence in the midst of the fear and pain.
Much love, Beverly. It really is a very difficult time!
Our hearts and thoughts are with our neighbors to the north, May God be with you and may you somehow feel his love and peace. John
Thank you John. I know that God is nearer than we could ever imagine.
I met you at the Ethics of Eating event in Pennsylvania a year ago. I appreciate your reflection so much. I haven’t been able to turn on the TV all day and hold loving prayers around my own grandchildren who are far from this tragedy. Your words are helpful. Thank you.
Hi Carole! I remember you 🙂 I’m so glad that I don’t watch TV. I think this event is horrific enough without all the media hooplah around it. I think it wise to keep the TV off. It is so senseless and tragic. I’m glad my reflections on my feelings are helpful. Many blessings and prayers.
Thank you, Lena. You have put into words the faith that is needed at times like this. A difficult thing to do but very nicely done. I have been thinking about you a lot today wondering how the proximity of the event will effect members of your congregations in a personal way.
Thanks Dad! I have learned in the last couple of days that there are a few close connections in my congregations—one middle school teacher who teaches in Newtown. One business partner whose daughter was a teacher’s aide who was killed with the child she was trying to protect. One friend’s son whose mother-in-law was the principal of the school. And the principal was well known in town—she graduated from Naugatuck High School. It has been a truly jarring, emotionally trying time for all. Lots of tears, lots of hugs, and lots of questions forever unanswerable.
Lena, oh thank you for this…I am in the Upstate New York Synod, and I am preaching this morning — after the events on Friday, I tossed what I had. Now, I know what needs to be said, and you’ve helped me to see how to say it.
Jeri, I’m glad that this was what you needed! I trust that your preaching was Spirit-filled this morning. Blessings!
Thank you for Grace in your words. May you and other CareGivers be strengthened in your giving and receiving of love.