Saturday, December 15, 2012


I did not sleep well last night. I went to bed heart broken, lamenting the tragedy of Newtown. I have been thinking and praying and crying, along with the rest of our nation.

As a pastor, my next response has been to help organize a prayer vigil. That will be Sunday at 5:00 at Wesley Church on Lookerman St. You are invited. So is everyone you know.

Now, as I sit at my dining room table, watching my two precious children play with their friend from down the street, I am struggling to re-finish my sermon for tomorrow. So I share with you some of the thoughts, theological and otherwise, that are running through my mind.

1. Ben Gosden's blog post was excellent... here is an excerpt:

If Advent teaches us anything, it’s that One is promised to us who will bring salvation to the world. And if this tragic event teaches us anything, it’s that we are NOT the authors of our own salvation. It’s hard to admit that we cannot save ourselves no matter how hard we try.

Today families are hurting because their babies didn’t come home from school. Today children are without parents and spouses are left without partners. Today a nation is crying out for salvation from the evil that is all too real among us. The time for abstract discussion about policies can wait until tomorrow (note: tomorrow is about right). Today God is busy weeping with us. Our congressmen and senators cannot save us. President Obama cannot save us. Only God can save us — and we have to come to terms with that.

If this season of Advent means anything, it means we are preparing for the coming of a Messiah — one who will save us — in the form of a helpless and vulnerable baby. And that baby is to be found lying in a manger. Or maybe nursing at the loving bosom of his mother. This mother will tenderly hold that baby not knowing that one day she will also lose him to the violence of this world. And we cannot explain the mystery of why this event is so beautiful, but it just is. Maybe it’s because if violence, tears, and heartache are to be defeated, then they will be defeated by One who knows all too well the consequences of such evil realities.
In the meantime, we grieve with those who are grieving this day. And in our grief we sing the words of the carol when it says says: And in despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. We need you more now than ever. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

2. I received an email from a clergy colleague, with a suggestion that perhaps tomorrow, we should not light the third candle. This candle is traditionally known as the candle of Joy. I can certainly understand the sentiment. It does not feel appropriate to be joyful in the midst of this tragedy. Indeed, this is a time of lament and sorrow.

But I am actually looking forward to lighting those Advent candles tomorrow in worship. Here's why: the overall message of the Advent Wreath is to light candles in the face of the growing darkness of shorter days and thus proclaim that the darkness can never overcome the light.  I think it will be important to proclaim that this Light is the light of hope, and darkness does not overcome it.

I was reading Adam Hamilton this week. In his book The Journey, he noted that "joy, unlike happiness, can come to us independent of our circumstances. It comes not from changing our circumstances but from viewing them through the eyes of faith."

Even as we are deeply sorrowful and unhappy in the face of this tragedy...and we are right to lament and grieve.... we are not without hope... or even joy... because even in the midst of our profound sorrow, Emmanuel is among us.

3. I have been thinking about an email exchange I had with a friend. After a teen's death in a car accident, she kept hearing people make comments about God needing another angel in heaven; how she had accomplished her purpose on earth. It was driving her crazy. I replied in agreement that God does not cause such tragedy to happen. Here is what I wrote:

I am reminded of Dr. Larry Stooky threatening us in worship class in seminary (and he is a gentle sweet man) "If I ever hear that you preach a child's funeral by saying 'God needed another angel in heaven' I will come to your church and shout you out of your pulpit"

I think it reflects a poor understanding of what we mean by God's purpose. We all have an overarching purpose in life: To love God with all our being, to love our neighbor as ourselves...especially the overlooked, to care for creation (our first charge in Genesis), to use our spiritual gifts for ministry and service, and thereby make disciples of all nations.

I do not believe that these are accomplished on only "one path" or "plan"...but are the overarching purpose that is supposed to inform our journey.. and may be accomplished on a myriad of "paths" through choices.

To say that she had accomplished her purpose on earth and therefore God called her home is to have a poor understanding of God. As Leslie Weatherhead writes, it is frankly to accuse God of murder. His book on this topic is short, sweet, and well written.

Yes, I believe God welcomed her home. Yet no one was more sad than God to see her die so young.

I remember a sermon, which I wish I could find. It was preached by Peter Gomes, the late chaplain at Harvard. He lost a son to a car accident. He preached that "God wept the first tear when my son went over that bridge" He railed against the idea that God caused it and celebrated God's presence and comfort in the midst of it.

I think that people want to believe that life has an unerring order to it. The idea that her death was "God's plan", especially if there is any sense of fault or blame or grey area, want to find comfort and certainty. For the driver especially this may be comforting.

But in general, I find it damaging to the do you my friend.

I do not believe, cannot believe, that the deaths of these children and teachers was "a part of God's plan." They are evidence of the evil, sin, and death which Jesus came to end. Although the Kingdom of God is not yet complete, it has begun.

And so in this season that is proclaimed by the Church as a time to watch and wait, in hope and expectation, for the Holy One to return, I groan with all of creation and say "Come, Lord Jesus."


  1. Thank you My Lovely Friend. I believe that God is the first to weep when decisions or circumstance cause our hearts to be broken.

  2. I too have found myself longing for tomorrow's lighting of the Advent candles, and I too have found myself saying "come, Lord Jesus" when I hear about the things that happened yesterday. Tomorrow will be a tough kind of joy, but in my life the joy that comes from knowing God is with us in our pain has been the most meaningful joy I have experienced. Thanks for sharing your reflections.