Stores around the country may say otherwise, but technically it isn’t Christmas yet. Heck, it is not even Advent, the season in the church year where we wait for the birth of Jesus. My heart, however, is sitting in the season of Advent. No, this isn’t because I love Christmas music and my children are begging to put up our Christmas tree. It is because my heart is longing for Emmanuel — God with us.
Last week I woke up again and the first thing I encountered was news of another mass shooting. This one felt close to home, even though it was in California. Being a part of a university community, the words “College Night” jumped out as I thought about students for whom I care deeply, who might enjoy such a gathering at a local establishment in Valpo. It also felt close to home because our sister school, California Lutheran University, is located in Thousand Oaks. That community lost an alumni who had graduated in May, they had a number of students who witnessed the trauma from inside Borderline, and the son of the police officer that was killed is a student there. It is hard not to start wondering what it would be like if something like this happened at Valpo. After all, mass shootings are teaching us that these events can truly happen anywhere. Thousand Oaks, CA was considered one of the top three safest cities in the US.
I quickly had the echo of scripture ringing in my mind,
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” Matthew 2:18
This scripture is an echo from Jeremiah 31:15. Rachel was the mother of Benjamin and Joseph who have offspring who are a part of Israel (Joseph) and Judah (Benjamin). Rachel had died a millenium before this time but the scripture represents the lament of the loss of nations, the divide, and the violence that has killed her offspring. It is the echo that rings in the gospel writer’s ears as Herod slaughters all children under the age of two in response to the announcement that Jesus, a new king, had been born. Violence and trauma like that impact all people and all sides, children of Judah and Israel, Jews and Gentiles, or Democrat and Republican.
This space of lament, despair, and violence is the space that God chooses to enter into. Jesus is born into a world where rulers would rather slaughter children than risk losing power. Jesus enters the world and becomes a refugee fleeing violence.
My lament over the violence, evil, and brokenness of this world longs for a simple answer, a platitude that can take the fear and pain away or simply explain why evil is in this world. The truth is I don’t have it. I cry out and weep for my children who have been born into a world where mass shootings are expected and shooting drills are a part of their life. I weep for those who lost family members. I lament those who are struggling to process the lost sense of safety. I and many others join Rachel’s cry and refuse to be comforted in a way that would make it to easy to just swipe away the pain of the violence and grief. In fact, I think God calls us to follow Christ into that space and join in the weeping. Over and over in scripture, God chooses to enter the space of human brokenness.
On Sunday night, like every Sunday night at Candlelight, our 10 p.m. service, the congregation declared,
“A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”
We gathered together holding candles in the midst of the darkness of this world. We held candles and lifted up prayers for all those impacted by violence, especially those impacted by the shooting at Borderline. We held candles for those who weep and cannot hold a light themselves. We received Christ’s body and blood through Holy Communion and remembered how Jesus was willing to enter the violence of this world fully through death on the cross to show that there is Nothing that can separate us from God’s love. We reached out and received Christ’s body and blood and clung to the promise of Emmanuel — God with us — in our pain, questions, lament, and joy. We gathered and were “Re-memberd” into the Body of Christ that is called to shine light in this world.
So even though it may be early, I am singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel…”
Nov. 14, 2018