My very feeble sermon from a day full of emotion. The prayer I used following the sermon is here as well (taken from someplace on the internet late yesterday, thanks to whoever wrote it!).
Advent 3C, 2012.
There are no words to be found. No words about the tragic loss of life that will have it make any sense to us. Nothing I say will dispel the questions that are on all of our minds. Especially, why? Why were first graders who had gone off to school in the morning for their spelling tests and gym classes—the ones who were eagerly anticipating Christmas and the rest of Hanukkah—why were their lives cut short?
Today’s Advent theme is “Rejoice!” and we light the pink candle to remind us of the joy that is to be found in coming of the Christ child. “Rejoice always,” we heard Paul say, and “Do not worry about anything, but through prayer making your requests known to God.” Worry and fear and dread hang over us all right now, especially those of us with elementary school aged children. It is hard, if not nearly impossible to rejoice.
As some of you know, Melissa used to teach at the high school in Newtown, Connecticut. She still has friends in the district, including the son of a close colleague who taught at Sandy Hook elementary we learned yesterday that he had been transferred this year to the other elementary school in town. I found out late on Friday that a classmate from college that I didn’t know very well named Joel and his wife JoAnn lost their daughter, a six year old girl named Charlotte in this tragedy. I watched my own six year old daughter head off to the bus stop Friday morning with her mom wondering if she would get all her words right on her spelling test. I was not wondering if she would come home or not. I cannot tell you how wonderful that hug was when both our kids got off the bus.
Coming in to pray in the church this weekend, I looked long at the two crucifixes in our nave, especially the one over the high altar. I was reminded that we serve a God who has suffered as well. And not only that, but Jesus came to live among us—he is Emmanuel, God with us— and his light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it. It continued on, even on that dark Good Friday when all hope seemed lost.
But all hope is not lost. The light continues on, even though it feels much dimmer now than it was a few days ago. When things become overwhelming, and it feels that evil will be victorious, we must remember that the light shines on in the darkness.
Yesterday I went with Noah, Olivia and four of their friends to see “Rise of the Guardians” for Noah’s birthday. The tale is centered on how the Bogey Man, named Pitch Black, came to fill the dreams of sleeping children with nightmares. The Guardians of the children—Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sand Man—gather to dispel the nightmares. They are joined by new-comer Jack Frost, who has been picked as a new Guardian to work with the big four. The Guardians had to fight for their very lives at times, because if the children stopped believing in them then the Guardians would lose their powers and ultimately reach their demise.
So they worked together in order to combat Pitch Black and the fear he brought into the world. A globe with lights represented the children who believed, more lights meant more children who believed. As children stopped believing in them, lights would flicker and then go out. At one point it came down to just a handful of lights, and all hope seemed lost. But in that dire time, Santa gave the best line of the movie when he said, “It is our job to protect the children of the world. For as long as they believe in us, we will guard them with our lives.”
As members of Christ’s body, as the church, we are called to be the guardians of the children of the world. We must not let our children be overcome by fear, and we must not be overcome by it ourselves. Christ came into the world to dispel fear and to bring us love and joy and peace and hope. As the night grows ever longer, we must remember that light came into this dark world, and the light shone on and was not overcome. Jesus brought love for each of us and will heal the brokenhearted, and in the end love wins.
Some have said that more people carrying guns is the answer, but that will only lead to more violence. Some religious types have claimed that this is a result of God being taken out of our schools. We already know more about the perpetrator than we should. I am not sure how we can work for change, but we must. Statistics show that 8 more nameless kids will die today from gun violence. And 8 more tomorrow. We are called to protect the children of the world and bring the message of Jesus Christ to them. Jesus comes to bring us joy in the midst of the darkness—not happiness, mind you, but joy deep inside even as we face the darkest times.
Let me share a story about Charlotte that I saw online last night. She had gotten a new outfit for the holidays, a pink dress and some new boots. She asked and badgered and begged her mom to let her wear them before Christmas. Friday morning JoAnn finally relented and let Charlotte wear that beautiful new outfit to school.
The message of Advent is one of expectation and hope, and I know I need the coming of Christ more this year than ever before. He comes, this Prince of Peace, to heal our broken world. I long for that this year, for true healing and shalom—wholeness and not despair. We cannot let fear’s icy grip rule our hearts, but we must turn to Jesus who suffered for us and suffers with us every time tragedy strikes. He will come in 9 days as that babe in a barn located in some backwater district in the Roman Empire. When he comes, that crying babe will announce all the more powerfully that God enters into our world to bring light and joy and peace. And no matter how much the world does not want that message—no matter how much the forces of wickedness seek to extinguish that light—that message lives on as Christ lives in us. We bring the message of hope to the world on behalf of Christ; we are Christ’s hand and feet, his body, and with him we shower the world with his love. The light of Christ will not be extinguished. It will shine bright in this dark, dark world.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.
Prayer following sermon:
There are no words. There is nothing that we can say but instead we cry out. We cry out in shared grief and pain for the loss of so many children. We do not understand, and we cannot imagine why someone would murder, why someone would justify this act of violence. We cannot comprehend.
We come to You in prayer, but our prayer is jumbled. We pray for the families who are grieving. We pray for those who are wounded and recovering. We pray for those adults who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others. We pray for those children that have witnessed this horrific tragedy and will live with this for the rest of their lives.
Our grief is raw. The wound gapes open and we do not know how to stop it. But we call upon You, O Lord, to comfort those who mourn, to bind-up the brokenhearted.
It is Hanukkah, it is Advent, many are now preparing for these holy days without their loved one. God, we surround them with our prayers, for we do not know what else we can do. We surround them with our love, knowing that You are with them, that You hold them close.
Call us together as a community, and as a nation, loving God, to work to end violence, to build a safer community and safer schools for our children. In this time, help us to come together, for we are stronger together than we are alone, and we know Your comfort and love is shared when we are together.
Keep us close, O Christ. Help us to turn to each other, to seek the help we need, to build up instead of tearing down. Guide us with wisdom in how we teach our children, and work to end this violence. Loving God, help us to know You are always with us, and You are grieving with us now.
Charlotte Bacon, 6;
Daniel Barden, 7;
Rachel Davino, 29;
Olivia Engel, 6;
Josephine Gay, 7;
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6;
Dylan Hockley, 6;
Dawn Hocksprung, 47;
Madeline F. Hsu, 6;
Catherine V Hubbard, 6;
Chase Kowalski, 7;
Nancy Lanza; 52
Jesse Lewis, 6;
James Mattioli, 6;
Grace McDonnell, 7;
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Emile Parker, 6;
Jack Pinto, 6;
Noah Pozner, 6;
Caroline Previdi, 6;
Jessica Rekos, 6;
Avielle Richman, 6;
Lauren Russeau, 30;
Mary Sherlach, 56;
Victoria Soto, 27;
Benjamin Wheeler, 6;
Allison N. Wyatt, 6
May light perpetual shine upon them and all the saints.
In Your Holy name we pray. Amen.