December 20, 2012 There isn’t enough time. There just isn’t enough time between bona fide tragedies in our world. We barely have time to catch our breath before we hear about something new. Last week it was the horrific school shootings in Newtown, Conn. So this week, instead of counting down the days until Christmas, devastated families are counting down the funerals for slain kids.
It’s hard to know how to respond. As I said on Sunday, people seem to be sliding back-and-forth between guilty feelings and shallow feelings. Some people are so crushed that they’re actually taking down Christmas decorations - they feel guilty celebrating anything in the midst of such pain, sorrow and evil. Other people (or even the same people just a few minutes later!) say that tragedies like this really “put things in perspective.” It’s a nice sentiment, but it completely ignores the brokenness that assaults our world.
Truth is, neither of these reactions - guilty feelings or shallow feelings - actually do anything to touch the agony. But that’s just it, very few of us are interested in actually touching the agony of our world (myself included). And perhaps, just perhaps, that’s part of the reason we feel so assaulted by the tragedies that surround us. Every day we’re subjected to an overwhelming number of tragic stories. We’re flooded with a catalogue of events that are crushing peoples’ lives: from the Sudan to Syria, from Hurricane Sandy to Sandy Hook Elementary School. The cycle never ends, and it’s easy to end up feeling helpless and angry, wondering where that agony will eventually reach us… or maybe it already has.
The Good News at Christmas is that God is touching the agony of our world. It’s easy to look at everything that’s still wrong, but 2,000 years later we can’t stop celebrating a story about an insignificant baby, in an insignificant family, in an insignificant part of the world - because we believe this story is where God began personally touching the agony of our world. Ultimately, our faith isn’t about a set of moral teachings or rules. It’s about a relationship with a loving God who relentlessly calls us - and all of creation - to new life. And it becomes personal in Jesus.
This year, and every Christmas, we’re invited to personally touch the agony of our world. It doesn’t mean that we all need to be racing around the globe, chasing down tragedies (although we certainly need people who do that). It means that we all need to be a people of prayer. Christian prayer is all about our belief that God is not far away. He is personal, Emmanuel, “with us.” So our prayer becomes one of the ways that God Himself continues touching the pain, sorrow and evil of our world; and not just touching it with guilty feelings or shallow feelings, but touching it - and all of creation - with new life. And when you get right down to it, that’s something worth celebrating with all our might.
The Rev’d. Eric M. Hillegas