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by Mark Hallock
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How do we respond?
My heart is deeply grieved over the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting which ended the lives of 26 victims, 20 of them children.
Needless to say, words seem weak and impotent during a time like this. We shouldn't turn our heads from this atrocity, but square up our shoulders and look right at it with eyes wide open. God's children are called to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn, and we do both with great hope in the promises of God. It's tempting to want to avoid the horror of such an event, but I believe our Father wants us to see a glimpse of what he sees and feel, for a moment, what he feels. He knows something about the loss of a child.
The timeliness of Matthew 2
In the season of Advent, we are unpacking the biblical narrative of Jesus' birth in the Gospel of Matthew. I'm struck by the timeliness of this text. In Matthew 2, something evil and wicked takes place:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
Weep with those who weep
Rachel's weeping was heard in Newtown, Connecticut yesterday. Her wails echo through a long, painful history of loss. And the loss of children at the hands of a murderer can never be rationally understood. Sin is not logical. It can't be reasoned with. It has no explanation. News outlets are looking to assign blame. Politicians are using this tragedy to push an agenda. But the people of God are called to join Rachel in her weeping even if she refuses to be comforted.
At the darkest moment in the birth narrative of Christ, just before his entry into the world as a vulnerable baby, Herod attempts to thwart God's promises by murdering all the boys under two years old in the small town of Bethlehem. 10—20 babies lost their lives by the sword that day. And no matter how insignificant history views this, no matter how small this may seem compared to greater tragedies in the Ancient Near East, God records this so that we'll never forget the lengths Satan will go to kill hope.
God suffers with us and for us
Our friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors are all trying to piece things together. Now is not the time for debates. Now is a time for tears and prayer. Now is a time to hug our children, comfort others and cling to the promises that our God isn't distant or aloof to our pain, suffering, and loss. And though there may be a thousand objections to the goodness of God and his purposes for allowing such a tragedy, one thing we know for certain as we listen during this season of Advent, our God loves and cares about us enough to suffer with us and for us.
The birth of Jesus into a world riddled with sin is God's response to this shooting. The cross of Jesus stands as the greatest display of God's love for us and the loudest declaration of the lengths to which he will go to win our hope. The resurrection of Jesus settles our hearts and reminds us that even though this is not the way it's supposed to be, it will not always be this way.
God draws near to those who have lost what is dearest to them. And he does so through his people. And when someone asks us, “Where was God when this happened?” We can say with a hope-filled heart and trembling voice, “God is in the same place today as he was when his own Son hung on a cross. Jesus Christ took all this evil and suffering and swallowed it as a bitter pill. God so loves this sin-sick world that he gave his only Son to it. And whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life with our Father in a world made right.”
At a time of year when joy and laughter should fill every home, heartbreak and weeping seems out of place. But this is an open door to God's heart. The coming of Immanuel means Herod, murderers, death, and Satan do not win. God is still with us.