This sermon is part of my Advent series for 2012, but my original theme changed with the tragic shootings in Newtown, CT on Friday. Our service and prayers we’re reflecting of our lament and our desire for God to heal broken hearts and crushed dreams.
“Christmas Characters: Mary and Joseph”
It’s an interesting day to be preaching. The world is full of pain in the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, CT. The news is full of pictures of children and parents. It’s full of talk around guns and violence. It’s full of how to protect the innocent from similar incidents. It’s so hard to process.
To think of this town, how it has gone from celebrating Christmas joy to deep pain in just minutes. It’s really something we just cannot imagine, nor do we want to. Yet there are families living in this pain and despair right now.
At a time of year when we have been talking about hope, peace and, just today, joy, how can we find these things in a world that seems intent on causing pain and suffering?
How can we continue to wear a smile on our faces? How can we continue to want to party and be around people? How can we celebrate Christmas knowing there are people out there who have their hope and joy crushed senselessly?
It’s not easy.
We reassure ourselves with words like “God needed a choir of angels” or “They were just on loan to us.”
Garbage. Absolute garbage.
I do not believe in a god who kills innocent children. I do not believe in a god who will punish a community by taking away their future. It’s complete garbage and unhelpful to say these things.
Here’s what we do. We reassure ourselves that God is weeping with the people of Newtown and all who mourn the loss of these children. We reassure ourselves that God has welcomed these children into his presence. We reassure ourselves that God is at work though the letters and cards that are being sent. Through the people who are running to the aid of those who are in deep pain and mourning. We trust in God our healer, our comforter, our source of life to help heal hearts made heavy by the acts of one individual.
God knows our pain.
And today as we read of the Mary and Joseph chosen to bring a child into the world we think of the circumstances around his birth.
We remember he was a child born to a young couple who are engaged. We remember he was born in a world of great violence and oppression for his people.
We remember the many children who lost their lives when word spread of this new King of kings born in Bethlehem.
Such a tragedy this time of year is hard to take. A time of year when there already is a lot of emotion and activity. A time when we look for joy, love, peace, and yes, gifts appearing under our trees.
My friend Connie DenBok shared these words on Friday:
“The story of Santa is so inadequate in the face of horror. The story of Christmas is a helpless baby born in a town where armed killers roamed the streets tearing babies from their mothers’ arms. We can hear their lament, and imagine the trembling of Mary and Joseph fleeing, share their horror at men who live their bitterness by destroying what is innocent, what is beautiful, what is loved. And in the midst of evil we live in hope that such darkness cannot extinguish the light of love that has come into the world.”
My friends, this is what it’s about. It’s not about Santa. It’s not about how much money we spend or how many gifts we receive. This season is literally about hope.
We know we live in an evil world. We know this planet if full of people who will do evil, and atrocious evil if they are given the chance. We know people will die needlessly.
But we also know that 2000 years ago a light came.
It came in the body of a little child. Born to a carpenter and a peasant girl.
A young couple who had encounters with angels who gave them a choice. They could be parents to a special child, or they could continue their normal lives. They could have avoided the shame and hatred they received as a couple accused of having an intimate relationship before they were married.
But something within them caused them to pause and turn their lives over to God’s plan. A plan which would elevate them to the position as parents of God as He came to the earth in the man, Jesus Christ our Saviour.
A child who came into the world at a time of great pain and suffering. A time of great darkness for the people of Israel and for many, many others who were seen as unworthy of life and being part of community.
God came into this mess. This world of pain and suffering, not as a king in a palace, but a baby in a barn. Not to royalty and riches, but to dirty shepherds and a childhood on the run from the rulers seeking to destroy him before he could speak a word. A time when his whole life depended on the careful care of his earthly parents.
This light has come among us.
And in this season of peace, hope, joy and love, a season still not immune to pain and suffering, we come to celebrate this hope, this light which shines brightly in a world of darkness.
A light which resides in those who believe and follow the Saviour of the world, still in a world of darkness. A world still full of fear.
Do you think Mary and Joseph felt fear? Do you think they weren’t scared near to death for what the world would have in store not just for them but for this child?
Over the last few days we have heard intense cries of lament for the lives of the children lost on Friday. A lot of questions asking “why?” and “how could it happen?”
Mr. Rogers, the well known, well loved children’s entertainer is quoted as saying,
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
The helpers are God’s response to pain and tragedy. People who act as Jesus would have acted in the same circumstances. Helping people in need.
People responding as lights to chase away the darkness that covers the land.
People of hope, peace, joy and love.
People who have responded to the command Jesus gave later in his life when he said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
My friends, in a world of pain and suffering, we are lights, showing the love of God to God’s people.
We are those who offer hope, peace, joy and love.
We are responding to the call of God, responding to the gift given to us in the Christ child. We are responding despite the fear and trepidation we may be feeling.
We are God’s people, serving in the name of Jesus Christ.
The darkness has no affect on us, because we are lights of God.
Let us continue to be as God has called us to be.