When Christmas Collides With Tragedy
Nativities, Sandy Hook and the light that dawns in great darkness.
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
There is a good deal of talk this time of year about “the reason for the season.” Generally, when people say this, they are referring to the Nativity. The idea is that Christmas is in danger of losing its edge because we are focusing too much on the holiday hustle and bustle and not enough on the holy significance of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. That’s the reason, goes the thinking.
And this mindset is not wrong, technically. Jesus’ birth was certainly the inciting occasion of the holiday season, and no great harm can come from meditating on it. But we go wrong when we point to a manger and say, “This is the reason for the season.”
Such simplicity undermines just how dire things had to get for God to send His only Son to earth. The Nativity—inflated in front yards, cartooned into coloring books and fought over so fiercely in courthouses—likely bears very little resemblance to the reason for the season. Christ’s birth was, as the angels announced, “glad tidings for all people,” but it was also a testament to just how desperately far things had gone off track. Prophets and priests were no longer enough. Or, rather, it was time to send in The Prophet. The Priest.
There are no words to really say over what happened in Sandy Hook on Friday. The facts are still spilling out, being revised and hashed around. Fingers are being pointed, and a broader conversation about mental health and gun control seems inevitable. Such talk is all very good, and Christians have a responsibility to advance the increasing likeness of the Kingdom of God with the Kingdom of heaven. If there are laws that can help affect that, then by all means, those are things that should be discussed.
But none of these conversations or laws will change the fact that a lot of people died on Friday. A lot of children. A lot of teachers. Teachers who should be alive to help carve the Christmas ham. Children who probably already had presents under the tree. Each of them woke up on Friday into a broken world of hate and fear and violence, went out into it and paid the price.
And a voice is heard in Connecticut, weeping and great mourning. Weeping for the children. Refusing to be comforted. They are no more.
In a sense, each of these lives—every last one of them—is the true reason for Christmas. Because God knew, and He knew when He sent His Son two thousand years ago, that things on earth were really this bad. He knew that the world He made was in a desperate place of devastation, endless tragedy and wanton violence, in which death was the only certainty. And He refused to let things stay that way. And so, Emmanuel came. Those suggesting a rise in secularism led to the Sandy Hook shooting—implying that God may have been more ready to help had America been more faithful—inadvertently dismiss the miracle of the Incarnation.
We cry when we hear the names of the teachers and students who were shot dead, as well we should. And, in our sadness, we start to find ways to grapple with our mourning. We blame the NRA or the lack of quality mental health care in this country. We blame the lack of prayer in schools. We tweet and Facebook our sorrow. Grief is the appropriate response in times of tragedy, though some expressions are more appropriate than others.
But will we, like Jesus, funnel our sadness into action? Will we grieve as long as Sandy Hook is in the news cycle but then gradually forget? Or will we allow our grief and outrage to bring us to our feet? Will we take part in Christ’s mission of rescuing the world and spread His love and compassion as far as the curse is found? Will we enter into the dark, wintery Bethlehems of our world to bring tidings of comfort and joy?
If you find yourself moved, act on it. Here are a few ways to start:
- A former Sandy Hook student has started a Victim’s Relief Fund to help fund counseling for students and teachers. You can donate to that here.
- There’s another campaign to raise funds for Sandy Hook Elementary’s Parent Teacher Association, which will provide care for families affected by the tragedy. You can donate to that one here.
- Another campaign is trying to raise enough funds to cover all the funeral costs for all the victims. Their goal is to get $50,000 in a month. You can donate to it here.
Nothing we can say or do will ease the pain. Nothing will justify the shootings or make any sense of it. But make no mistake—when Jesus came to earth, it was so that He could set in motion events that would culminate in a Kingdom where there is no more crying or grief. Where there are no senseless murders. Where the world will finally be new. And where the meaning of Christmas—the true meaning of Christmas—will finally be made joyfully, wholly evident.
And until that day, there is no better way to mourn the victims of a confusing, evil world and to celebrate the birth of a strange, wonderful child than to enter into the darkness ourselves and shine a light.