“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.'”
Wednesday night many of us were glued to our television sets watching events unfold in San Bernadino, California. We learned to our horror that multiple shooters had opened fire in a reception hall hosting a holiday party. We followed the developments as police chased a dark SUV and as shots were fired killing the two occupants of the car. We watched as police went door to door looking for other assailants, and as commentators spoke by phone to terrified residents barricaded in their homes.
This morning we still have many questions – was this a terror act, a disgruntled employee, or some combination of the two? Why did the perpetrators leave the site of the initial shooting after a relatively short shooting spree, and why didn’t they leave the area to escape police? We may never know the answers to all of our questions, but all of us should feel our hearts breaking for the families of those who were killed, for those who were injured, and for the bereft family of the couple who appear to have carried out this shooting.
On Thursday morning, the New York Daily News ran a large headline reading, “God Isn’t Fixing This!” Earlier our president made a statement we all need to hear, regardless of your stance on his policies, when he pointed out that saying that our prayers and thoughts are with people is meaningless if we don’t do anything to help. I don’t know what the answers are to these horrifying mass shootings, but it is time that we do more than simply wring our hands and say isn’t that terrible. It is time to do more than pray for the victims and think about the injured. It is time for us as a nation rise up and tell politicians and the NRA that we won’t stand any longer for their platitudes. The majority of NRA members favor tighter gun controls, but the NRA hierarchy won’t give an inch, sure that it will result in a slippery slope. Politicians who are funded by significant NRA donations dare not vote for gun control. We cannot, however, as people of faith, simply stand by and let this ‘do nothing’ response continue as it has after Sandy Hook, after Columbine, after Virginia Tech and on and on.
We may not be able to prevent every gun death, but surely there are things we can do that will decrease the number who die by gun violence. Whether mandatory background checks or refusal of guns to people on terror watch lists which Congress refused to pass this week, whether reducing the size of legal gun clips or creating smart guns that are sensitive to fingerprints, there are options that will lead to fewer gun deaths, including the 2/3 of gun deaths that are suicides.
We often forget that the Scripture cited above is one of the readings for the Sunday after Christmas. When we think of the holiday, we think of holly jolly Christmas, tinsel and presents, cookies and egg nog. But at the heart of Christmas is the broken heart of God, a heart that ached on Wednesday night. Christmas is the affirmation that Emmanuel has come, God With Us, in Jesus Christ. Through him, God has experienced not only the joys of human life, but also the pains and sadness. And yet, even amidst the incredible pain of the death of Jesus, God remained faithful and acted to save.
As we approach this Christmas, let’s give thanks for a God who cared enough to be with us fully, to live our human life, but who calls us to be more – to act for those who cannot act for themselves, to imitate the gracious action of the divine creator, and to be about the work of God today, not just praying empty words but acting as the instruments of God’s saving love..
Prayer: O God, our joyful approach to the celebration of Christ’s birth was jarred by the tragic news of this mass shooting. I wonder how such sadness could enter into the season of light. And yet I know, Lord, it was precisely to this world of darkness that Jesus came to bring hope and love. Let the light of Christ shine in me, through my actions and my words, as I work to bring hope and love into the darkness in your name. Amen.