Sunday, December 16, 2012

Newtown - and what Jesus wants for Christmas

  When I was only a little bit older than the children who were killed in Newtown on Friday, Simon & Garfunkel recorded “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night,” the lovely carol being overdubbed by the awful news of the day.  The dissonance is chilling.
   We shudder, and can’t stop crying, when we hear the names of schoolchildren who were robbed of life just days before Christmas: Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, Allison.  How could this happen?

   We gather and sweetly sing carols about “peace on earth, good will to men,” but we are willing participants in a culture that is rife with anger.  Politicians can’t get along, and there’s rage on the roads, in our cities, in our homes, and even in our hearts.  Flip to almost any channel from the news of Newtown, and you’ll see violence, somebody getting shot or beaten up.  We have a taste for violence.  The shootings in Newtown are appalling, but not surprising.

   If we dare sing carols about “peace on earth, good will to men,” we had best reckon with radical changes we need to embrace.  How do we turn the temperature down on the rancor and learn to be peaceful people?

   And I can’t fathom the politics of guns and the second amendment, but let me suggest as a starting place something I am 100% sure is true:  Jesus does not like assault weapons, and does not wish for us to use them, or have them.  After a mass shooting in 1996, Australia banned rapid fire guns, and saw a steep decline in gun deaths, and have had zero mass killings since.  How can Christmas carolers not even budge on the right to own guns like the one used to slaughter twenty children on Friday?

   Perhaps the more important conversation we who sing of “good will to men” must have is about mental illness.  Thirty years ago we rolled back support for programs for the mentally ill; slashed budgets for a generation have made help for the mentally ill hard to access, and we as a people avert our gaze instead of dealing with troubled souls.  When Jesus came, he made it a top priority to help the mentally ill.

   Mike Huckabee placed blame for the Newtown horror on the removal of God from the schools.  God is not removable from any place, thankfully.  We are not big enough to shove God out – and we forget this until tragedy strikes.  At 9-11, and on Friday, crowds flocked to places of worship, and even secular newscasters kept muttering, “We need to pray.”

   Indeed:  the worst news drives us to pray as we might when the news is good, the kind of prayer that listens to the desire of God that we enact what we sing in our carols and Christmas Scripture readings.  “Peace on earth, good will to all.” 

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