O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear. I don’t think I have felt these words more deeply as I have this weekend. I, like each of you, struggle to make sense of what happened in Connecticut on Friday.
For most of us, after the shock and disbelief wore off, we inevitably began to ask the question why. For the past two days the media has tried to ascertain what it is in the killer’s history that caused him to kill his mother, and then turn his murderous wrath on the children of Sandy Hook.
The truth is, we will never know what went on in the mind of Adam Lanza. I believe Governor Dannel Malloy gave the best answer when he said evil had visited upon Sandy Hook. The governor’s words at the time were beautiful and comforting but I am not convinced they told the whole story.
Evil does not just pop into town unannounced. Evil is always here as it is part of daily life. What was different in both Connecticut and Oregon this week, is the manifestation of evil made its presence undeniably known in its darkest form. And we are left to ask the question why, to which there is no answer.
The second question we ultimately ask is where God was in the midst of the violence, and we wonder if God still cares for us. I think it is only natural as people of faith to ask these questions. While we can deal with violence among adults, and even teens against teens, but when violence against the very innocent occurs, then it feels as if the foundation of our trust in God is shaken as we question how the omnipotent and loving creator can allow something like this to happen.
As a pastor, I wish I could provide the answers many of us are looking for today. I wish, I could take the away the grief we feel and say what we really want to hear, that everything is alright. But this is one of those times I can’t.
What I can say is what I know to be true and to offer the hope that surrounds us. I began my homily with the words of my favorite Advent Carole, O come, O come, Emmanuel. The words of this song speak to me today because I realize we are captive Israel. No we are not being held captive by the Babylonian or Roman empires, nor do we as Christians seek independent self-rule. However, what the events that occurred in both Connecticut and Oregon this past week tell us, is that we are to this day held captive by evil.
As I listened to NBC news Friday afternoon, the announcer kept stating that the shooting in Sandy Hook will follow the same script as all the other shootings since Columbine. There will be a time of public grief, and time of public outcry. Then, as the facts are assembled concerning the shooter the same picture will emerge of an angry, isolated individual who acted out in the throws of psychotic rage. And finally, to assuage our need for public blame, we will identify signals that “should” have told us something was wrong. In the end, after all the research and conjecture, we will again be reminded of how powerless we feel when confronted by evil.
I believe the evidence of evil was easier to accept in ancient days. Without the sophistication science and modern medicine, people suffering from mental illness were simply labeled as being possessed by a demon. Throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts, there are many stories of Jesus and the disciples casting the demons out of individuals who came to them for healing. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is confronted by the demoniac, an individual who is described as one who required being chained for his own safety. His name we are told was Legion, for the man was possessed by many demons. And despite the failed attempts of many, it was Jesus who managed to free the man of his demons by casting them into swine as they plunged to their deaths in the sea.
These accounts of Jesus and the Apostle’s casting out evil serve to tell us that only God has power over evil and it is God, through us, who can contain and cast away the evil of this world.
Stories of good and evil do not end with demon possession. And, the slaughtering of innocence is not new to our time and place. On December 28th of each year the Church Calendar observes the Feast of Holy Innocence. It is on this day we read about Herod’s slaughter of infants in hopes of killing the heavenly king in order to preserve his place on the throne of Israel. As gruesome and as bloody as this story is, it tells the world how violently evil will strike out when threatened by the love of God.
Yet even in the midst of Herod’s slaughter, God prevails. In a dream, an angel appears to Joseph and warns him to take Mary and Jesus out of the reach of Herod by fleeing to Egypt.
In the midst of Friday’s massacre, God did prevail. Yes, twenty-seven innocent lives were ended, but over 600 lives were saved. From the survivors we have learned where God was in the midst of the violence. On Facebook one person wrote, if you want to find God in the midst of this tragedy, look to the helpers. And that is where we find God was on Friday. According to survivors, there were feats of both great heroism and love. There is the story of someone having the foresight to switch on the intercom as a way of warning the school of the violent intrusion, of the janitor who risked his life by running through the halls to lock doors and warn of the intrusion. There were the teachers who guided their children to safety, kept them calm as they huddled in closets and bathrooms while singing or reading stories to them. Then there is the story of the twenty-seven year old teacher who hid all her students in cupboards and closets then lost her life as she told the shooter that her children were in the gym.
As these stories come together, the message is clear, God was present among the violence on Friday morning.
Finally, we will continue to witness God’s presence as the community and this nation gathers to comfort and care for the families of those who died.
It is both sad and poignant that we must grapple with such a heinous reality on the third Sunday of Advent. This morning we lit the pink candle. This candle represents hope, the hope we share in the second coming and the reign of God. And even though the song of Advent is for the ransom of captive Israel from evil, our song does not end there but with the words, REJOICE, REJOICE, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
When events like Sandy Hook take place it is only natural for us to ask why and to wonder where is God, as we are painfully reminded that the reign of God has not yet come, and like the Israelites of the the Babylonian captivity, we too live someplace between captivity and promise, between the resurrection and the reign of God.
And so this day our song continues to be O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom us captive Israel.
O come, O come Emanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of Man appears. Rejoice, rejoice Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!