God with us.

I am having a difficult time comprehending the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I'm not sure if it's my age, or my role as a teacher, or the fact that I am now a parent, but Friday's events have sent shock waves to my core and it's been hard to concentrate on anything other than those parents whose sweet babies didn't get to go home with them on Friday.  I'm trying to wrap my mind around this event from many angles --- a young mom who brings her son to a daycare center and trusts that the people there will keep him safe; a teacher whose responsibility goes far beyond educating the children of others; a citizen of this country, questioning the place and impact of guns, and violence, and the media, and mental health in our society; and a Christian believer, questioning why an all-powerful God would allow something this terrible to happen to these innocent babies.  

In all of my questions though, it is always times like these when you cling to faith the most.  And it's times like these when you realize the power of hope.  Sometimes it seems that faith is all that is left.  It is this faith that sent me longing for church on Sunday, for the hope that God would whisper some answers through His Word and that I would be able to grasp some understanding amidst the chaos in this world.  

The sadness of this event is only amplified just one week before Christmas.  I just keep thinking about those kids, at the prime of their innocence, writing their letters to Santa, performing in programs and concerts, and soaking up all the sweet moments of this special time of year.  I think about the presents under the tree, and how different Christmas morning is going to be without the receiver there to open them.  The pain seems unfathomable, yet, I'm also reminded of how truly close to home this all is --- that those parents, and brothers, and sisters, and grandparents in Newtown, Connecticut are no different than me.  Just three days ago, they too were caught up in the hustle and bustle of this season, never in a million years thinking their lives would be forever altered the way they are now.  This is why it feels so close, and has changed my perspective of what I usually love so much about this time of year.  It's hard to celebrate when you know there is such pain.

But as I sat in church yesterday, I was reminded of God's power, His grace, and the true meaning and hope of Christmas.  As we sang, 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel,' I was reminded of the very meaning of Jesus' name.  God with us.  And as Alice Shirey reminded me yesterday, the very meaning of this season lies in this very fact.  God is with us and knows the pain of this world --- he lived it himself.  He isn't listening to our prayers and hearing our concerns from faraway, but he's here, dwelling and walking in the mess of this world with us.  And the true gift of Christmas is that God knows the pain of this world and chose to come here in his flesh, to feel it and live it in the worst way imaginable so that our pain in this world is only temporary.  Phillip Yancy writes, "Under the cover of night, God stole into the enemy's camp incognito."  In the mess and the darkness of this world, he came as innocent baby, to comfort, heal, and walk with the broken.

The world is a mess.  It is full of darkness, and brokenness, and sadness, and has been since the beginning of creation.  It's scary to think of raising a child in this world and it's so easy to fear the what-ifs of tomorrow.  But there is so much good, too.  There's good in the teachers who put themselves in front of a bullet to save someone else's baby.  There's good in the people who are always there to head into the line of fire when everyone else is trying to run away.  There's good in the community that is coming together to be with the families who lost their children, and also the family whose child caused it.  This good is what we must cling to in times of trouble.   

Yesterday, I was reminded of the power of God's love.  That He is always there, walking with us in our darkness, just waiting for us to notice and love Him back.  Alice shared a quote from Simon Tugwell that says, "As long as we imagine that it is us that have to look for God, it is easy to lose heart.  But it is the other way around.  He is looking for us.  He has followed us into our own darkness.  And there where it is that we flee to escape Him, we run straight into His arms.  Our hope, our comfort, is in His determination to save us.  And He will not give in."  He waits for us, sometimes our whole lives, just hoping we will someday love him back.  

I was shamefully reminded of the hope of Christmas yesterday, and reminded of the comfort that exists when we realize God is always with us.  He is giving the gift of His presence to the people in Newtown, and continues to reveal the good that is so much more powerful than the bad.  

Thanks to my church and especially Alice for speaking truth to me yesterday and always.  To listen to more of her teaching, visit here...