The seasons of Advent and Christmas create environments of joy, celebration, and anticipation for many people. In churches we light candles that symbolize different aspects of the nativity story and sing about the arrival of the child who will change everything. It can be a warm, wonderful, time of the year.
But it won’t be that way for many families in Newtown, Connecticut. Religious or not, the month of December will never be the same for them. Not ever.
Within short order we’ve been offered reasons for this horrible tragedy: Lousy gun control laws, say some. The removal of prayer from public schools, say others. One has to marvel at the swiftness of the conclusions drawn that bring such certainty to a place where deep, fathomless grief is the only real and present experience.
And we, who follow Jesus, have the audacity in this season to announce,
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
God is with us. What an odd thing to consider when a young man, barely out of his teens, guns down twenty-two first graders and six adults in one tragic day. What an outrageous thing to declare when people inevitably ask why God didn’t stop the gunman in the first place. What a potentially empty thing to say when people immersed in grief feel as though they have been dropped into a black hole of pain.
But we still say it and we still believe it. God is with us.
There is something unnerving about the idea that God would enter into the reality, grittiness, and danger of human existence and experience it from start to finish. But we believe that God has done exactly that in the person of Jesus, in whom
. . . all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell . . . (Colossians 1:19)
In Jesus, God entered into human birth, life, suffering, and death—the whole range of human existence. And he remains with us, alongside us, in all aspects of life and death.
I have no answers to the question of why? when it comes to tragedies like this. The apparent randomness of evil and suffering might conjure up multiple speculations, but in the end the adverb why truly remains unanswered. It is only the preposition with that can help us.
I believe that God is with us. And I still grieve.