By Jeff Westover
I was driving when I heard the news. I was contemplating the interview I was about to have with a man who put on the red suit to portray Santa Claus for the first time this year. I only turned on the radio to check the weather for the rest of my drive. That is when, like all others, I was hit with the news of horrible mass murder in a Connecticut elementary school. Dozens of people were senselessly gunned down, most of them innocent children.
Through tears I tried to drive, my thoughts immediately going to my own grade school girls, imagining the terror of those horrific final moments. How they must have feared, longed for the safety of their mothers’ arms and wished to be anywhere else in than there! As the reporters described the scene my thoughts turned from the dead to those kids who survived and how the horror of that morning would affect them forever.
How could this happen? What kind of monster would do such a thing? How could God allow this to happen? Could He not have protected the innocent children?
In the aftermath of these events the natural outrage we feel has folks looking towards solutions. Those could have been MY kids, we think. We can build safer schools, we muse. We can stop senseless killing like this, we adamantly declare. We must do something and never, ever allow such terror to befall our little ones again.
It is human nature, I suppose, to cast blame. Since this event transpired I have heard theories and opinions about who or what caused all this. I heard one opine that it is good the shooter killed his mother because she deserved to die for raising her son so poorly. Another ranted about gun control. Yet others blame school administrators. It is natural, in our rage, to cast blame, I suppose, for all the little good it does.
But all the blame and improved solutions in the world will not answer the haunting question of why this kind of ugliness can happen at all.
As I have turned this over in my mind, forever sticking on what cannot escape me as pure evil against the pure innocence of those kids, it occurs to me that in a way there is provident fortune in one small way about this event: it has happened in the very shadow of Christmas.
Christmas is defined so many different ways. It warms my heart that even the faithless celebrate Christmas these days, if only to have a season of serving others. In my position within the Christmas community I engage with many whose approach to Christmas is different than my own.
But when bad things happen to good people Christmas, in my mind, takes on even more significance regardless of what kind of faith we have associated with it.
For the faithless, those whose spiritual journey has resulted in conclusions that God does not exist, I take heart because they are exercising their natural choice to rise above other species in reaching out to serve, to nurture, to give and to participate in the family of man in their celebrations of Christmas.
For those who celebrate the faith-based Christmas there is duality in purpose at Christmas. It is both to improve individually in thought and deed and to recognize the birth of a Savior who provides salvation when all the other efforts we make cause us to fall short.
But there are moments in life where the goodness of the faithless and the hope of the faithful fail to answer the penetrating questions that can only surface in the face of speakless tragedy: why?
Why did those kids have to die? Why were other children left behind to suffer? Why didn’t God stop it? Why did it have to happen at all?
The simple answer is “I don’t know”.
The more complex answer lies in the manger of Bethlehem. As Jesus hung from the cross he spoke words we fail to entirely comprehend except during times
of crisis such as now.
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Christ, whose pedigree was Divine, had power and authority to avoid the brutality of the cross. He could have stopped the torture that He endured. As we learned throughout the entire New Testament Christ had the instantaneous ability of performing miracles. The Bible clearly tells us that for all they did to Him he did not “give up the ghost” until He deemed it was time to do so. Why didn't He?
Could there be a reason He did not? Could there be lessons we gain and progress we make by facing the horrors of tragedy? Could the consequences that comes from the actions of one provide lessons and growth and better love between us all?
The call of Christmas is the call to be more Christ-like in all the moments of our lives – especially, I suppose, at moments like this one.
Yesterday, hours after everything had happened, I heard the phrase uttered from many different places: “Hug your kids a little tighter today”.
That instinctive and universally accepted sentiment, given in the aftermath of tragedy, is the natural response of beings born of a divine nature, too.
God did not save those children because saving the natural body is not what saving is all about.
“God gave his only Begotten Son”. He knows the pain of tragedy and murder and loss senselessly inflicted upon children. He lost his Child, too. And he did not stop it then.
Could it be, in God’s wisdom, there is something more for us to learn in these moments?
Could it be, in God’s love, there is something far greater to be gained in a life that contrasts between good and evil?
I consider that every Christmas. I see it in every donation made to help Santa’s Sleigh. I see it in Christmas cards exchanged between strangers. I hear it in conversations we have about the stuff of life we discuss here year round with our babies, our weddings, our funerals, and our successes and failures we share together.
The hardness of this life – from the simple difficulty of trying to make a living to the abject tragedy of horrific events like the school shootings in Connecticut – give us love and appreciation for each other to such a level that we act for good.
It is the same thing that drives a man to put on the red suit for the first time, just to bring smiles to children.
These contrasts and that goodness is reflected in our children, too. It occurs naturally.
After 9/11 we had a Christmas like no other here on MMC. Where we had adults questioning “why?” the kids were pouring their hearts out to Santa.
The letters from kids to Santa Claus that year were filled with horror and hope and sadness and wishes of giving.
In less than 24 hours after the events in Connecticut the letters to Santa we process are again filled with such stuff.
Like us, our kids are learning from what has transpired. Like us, they want to make things better.
God is in command, my friends. For all those things we cannot understand we must understand this: His grand design includes a desire for us to improve, to move forward, to progress, to become better and more intelligent through the life of this world. The good and the bad makes us so.
“Forgive them for they know not what they do.”
What a powerful example we have been given from that Babe of Bethlehem.
We will forever have to endure the consequences of the actions of others. There is wisdom in that, born of acts against us great and small.
This season of Christmas we celebrate the consequences spoken by angels who brought “tidings of great joy”. This season we celebrate through secret gifts, acts of kindness, moments of sharing and the consequences of having progressed as far as we have.
God understands. As His son was born there were innocent children killed in an attempt to take Christ away. In time, Christ was senselessly taken, too. It would not surprise me that even God Himself asked “why?” in that moment.
Perhaps in celebrating His birth we can find the answers we seek when our hearts are breaking.