Saturday, December 15, 2012

Where is God when tragedy strikes?

Seems I never published this on 12/15/2012- not sure how that happened.

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

In light of yesterdays tragic news I feel compelled to take a day off from the Cinnamon Bear story. I will catch it up for you and double up one of the days next week. It seems appropriate in the face of this loss to pause for a brief moment. 

Source: via Margot on Pinterest

James 4:8-10 (NIV1984) Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

I don't have cable tv and so I heard about the shooting when I logged on to face book and noticed numerous people commenting about the tragedy. I then checked the on-line news reports to find out what had happened. My first thought was one of compassion for those parents who had arrived at the school and not been able to pick up their child. Its 10 days from Christmas and for those families no number of gifts will replace the children lost to them in an act of senseless violence. There is still much of the story that has yet to come out. Even the names of the victims has not yet been released. 

"Panicked parents looking for their children had raced earlier in the day to Sandy Hook, a kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school where police told youngsters to close their eyes as they were led from the building so that they wouldn't see the blood and broken glass.
Schoolchildren — some crying, many looking frightened — were escorted through a parking lot in a line, hands on one another's shoulders." ~ Chicago Tribune

I was glad my own children we at home with me doing their school work. We love the school that they attend 2 days a week as part of a homeschool cooperative. Its a small school and security is pretty lax, one only needs to sign in at the office. The principle is good about watching that children are being picked up by their parents. I suspect this incident will cause many schools re-evaluate their security. No one thinks something like this will happen at their school or in their community. I wondered how this tragic event will change our schools and our children as a nation.  

I know that many of us are stunned, shocked, numb, angry, afraid, asking how could something like this have happened. I thought about just doing my scheduled Cinnamon Bear blog post today but it feels wrong to me. I feel like I need to pause for a bit today from the regular holiday hustle and bustle to think, to pray, to process. 

As I have been thinking about this tragedy and how it has befallen our nation only 11 days prior to Christmas. I am reminded of the Christmas story and how the birth of Jesus was vastly un-noticed by most people. Life in Bethlehem was crazy busy because of a census that Herod had ordered. Most people never even noticed Joseph and his very pregnant wife enter the town. I wonder if we too are more wrapped up in our holiday preparations, celebrations, giving and receiving of gifts that we too hardly find the time to pause and think about the significane of God sending His Son into the world. 

The lowest of the societal rung noticed because they were greeted out in the fields by angels. 
There were a few folks that were waiting and watching for signs of His coming. Magi or scholars from the East saw the star and set aside the things of daily life to embark on a journey to see this miracle foretold by the prophets. They stop on the way and ask of Herod for where they might find the king born to the Jews. He didn't know but got information from them regarding when they first saw the star. Some think they may have traveled for several years and Jesus was by then a toddler. 

This next part of the Christmas story from Matthew 2 makes me sad and uncomfortable. 
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,  weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Herod was a ruthless man. He has his own sons strangled and a brother in law who was gaining popularity was found drowned in a small pool. Even five days before his own death he has another of his sons killed. I found this quote in the IVP Commentary Series "The murder of the children of Bethlehem thus fits Herod's character; yet it is not surprising that other early writers do not mention this particular atrocity. Herod's reign was an era of many highly placed political murders, and our accounts come from well-to-do reporters focused on the royal house and national events. In such circles the execution of perhaps twenty children in a small town would warrant little attention-except from God. 

So long time ago in Bethlehem twenty small children were executed by a jealous king in his search for Jesus. God noticed and paused to remember it in Matthews account. It is not found in any other gospel account and seems passed over in historical accounts. God warned Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the child to Egypt.  Joseph heeded the waning took his family away in the night. The Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and slipped back to their homes by some other route. 

I love the closing line of the story the Gift of the Magi by O Henry. "The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi." 

Most of us will not know personally any of the families who lost children in this shooting. We will not be there to grieve with them. We will not have to look at the un-opened presents under their Christmas trees or feel their pain at their child's birthday, or graduation. They will not get to seem them grow up to have their own children. Each of those milestones will be marked by the pain of their loss. 

 As I watched the news I thought the support of the community as they gathered to pray was a bit of bitter sweet beauty. It was wonderful to see the community rise up to support one another. On the other time I could not help but wonder, does it require a tragedy to move a community or a nation to pray? Have our schools become targets because prayer is not allowed in them? I have to admit I have not been very faithful to pray even for my own children's school. I know in the work that we do with the homeless that sometimes shelters have to close because funding dries up because people seem to forget there is a problem. Will this present tragedy cause us to talk about better security for our schools, its sure to stir the controversy over gun control. Will it perhaps cause us to look at our mental health system and how someone like this shooter did not get help before he snapped and shot his own mother and then teachers and small children. 

C.S. Lewis said it so well in his book The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” 

Where is God when tragedy strikes? 

Some will try to say that this is God's judgement on our sinful nation. I don't think people who say such things really know Jesus. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance. Just as God bothered to notice and record the loss of the children long ago in Bethlehem I believe He records this loss.  A voice is heard in Connecticut,  weeping and great mourning, like Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. 

I believe He weeps with those who weep. He comforts the broken hearted. He longs to heal us of our brokenness. I find myself back again to the J R Tolkien quote that I used in the previous post before this tragedy had even happened. 

"It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Even in the midst of this tragedy, our grief, our anger and all the questions it evokes. I pray that perhaps you will be moved to become part of the dialoge, to be part of the solution. I think sometimes we as Christians have taken the attitude that the world around us is a sinking ship spiraling to its just destruction. Yet we are called to be salt and light. Called to be ambassadors of God's kingdom showing his mercy, compassion and love to lost and broken people. Help us to  be people who repent on behalf of a nation that does not know what its doing. That we would rise up on behalf of the oppressed, the weak. That we would bring into our own neighborhoods Gods mercy and compassion. That we would shine more brightly for Him, pushing back the darkness one life at a time. That we would not allow tragedy of this sort to cause us to huddle in our churches waiting for the Lord's return but we would be found out making a difference. I pray that we would shake off our complacency and help bring hope and healing. 

Lord you are calling us all to pray. Lead us and help us to pray effectively. Give us your wisdom as you are call some to speak up or to write. Help us to take that step of faith to respond to your call to go from our places of comfort into the front lines. Move some to open their hearts and their homes. Move some to give of their time and their treasure to worthy Kingdom causes.  Each of us, has been moved in some way by this tragedy, use it to shake us out of our slumbering complacency. Help us not to just nod back off to sleep, but to seek you for how you desire to use us in this day and in this hour. 

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