The horrific shootings in Oregon and Connecticut this past week have broken into our Christmas cheer. We grieve for the families who have experienced the death or injury of a loved one. We pray for people everywhere who are struggling as a result of these tragedies. Our minds tune in, like never before, to the reality that there are many more people in our world dealing with pain, trauma, abuse, violence, loneliness, and despair.
We can’t wrap our minds around what has happened. We feel vulnerable and afraid. We are confused, dazed, and not certain how to go forward. The Psalms of the Bible capture our feelings well:
How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? (Psalm 13:2, English Standard Version)
Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart… (Psalm 140:1-2, English Standard Version)
Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord! (Psalm 130:1, New International Version 1984)
The writers of these Psalms have been where we have been. Their souls ache as we ache. How do we simultaneously hold both the joy of Christmas and the grief of these tragedies? How do we celebrate in such tumultuous times?
This is why Christmas is so important to us. We have to celebrate! We can do nothing else than sing “Joy to the World!” Like the Psalm writers, there is nowhere else to turn, but to the Lord.
We dare not forget that the true meaning of Christmas is that God saw us in our sin and all of its hopeless, ugly consequences, and came to us. We sing of Emmanuel which means “God with us.” He has not abandoned us in our pain. A child who is crying and hurting crawls onto the lap of Mommy and feels at peace. The world has not changed, but now the child is in the arms of a loving parent and there is comfort. Christmas is God, our loving Father, coming to us and holding us close. The world has not changed, but we experience peace, because we are in the arms of our Father.
At Christmas, we celebrate that God not only comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ, but that He wins victory over sin and evil. As a parent, l can hold my child, but I can’t always do anything to fix an ugly situation. God can and does. Christmas is meaningful because of Easter. The baby Jesus came to suffer, die, and rise again. He took sin and its consequences (injustice, abuse, pain, and death) to the cross. He “fixed” it all so that there would be victory and hope for us. He secured an eternal victory where we will have peace, joy, perfect justice, and redemption with Him in heaven. All who have faith in Him look forward to this future. He told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, New International Version, 1984).
It is with His presence and victory that we go forward with joy and excitement into the Christmas holidays. No, we don’t understand why tragedies occur, but we do know that God is with us (Emmanuel) and that He brings the ultimate victory. Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
By the Rev. Phil Wagner, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Waconia.