On Friday morning, my son told me to turn on the television. There had been another school shooting. The location of the shooting was a small school in a lower southwestern Connecticut village called Sandy Hook. Relatively few Americans outside of Connecticut have ever heard of the town. But I knew it well, at least as well as a nine year old boy could know a place.
I lived in Sandy Hook and attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in my second through fourth grade years. Mrs. Hinckley taught my second grade class—I started in the spring semester—, Mrs. Lohrs the third and Mrs. Fairchild, taught me in the fourth grade. I attended the school during its first ten years of operation, from the spring of 1964 to the spring of 1966. I was confirmed in the Trinity Episcopal Church of Newtown. We lived in the caretaker’s home of Hollywood film director Elia Kazan, one of Sandy Hook’s most well-known residents, but his name meant little to me at the time. I was in Mrs. Wheeler’s Sandy Hook Cub Scout pack.
The years in Sandy Hook were good years. It was a peaceful, idyllic, sleepy New England town filled with old houses, old stone walls, and now, almost fifty years later, a few old childhood memories.
As I began to watch the story of the tragedy unfold on Friday, along with the rest of the world, I sat in stunned silence as its full horror began to unfold. Information was sketchy at first, but the longer the story aired, the more shocked and saddened we all became. A lone gunman apparently forced his way into the school and wantonly took the lives of twenty children and six of their adult school leaders.
I along with others wondered why someone would unleash such wicked evil on a helpless group of six and seven year olds? It seems unlikely that anyone who worked in the school when I attended would still be there now more than forty-five years later. But I wondered if these were the grandchildren of some of my classmates. I wondered if I sat in these very classrooms. As the details of the tragedy have come forth, the puzzle as to the why only deepens. Sadly, it is a tragedy that will not soon be forgotten and one which will, for many years to come, haunt the Christmas season in this sleepy little New England town.
At times like this, Christians in general and ministers of the gospel in particular, often struggle to make sense of and respond to evil of this magnitude. What can we do? What should we do? What must we do as we hear of these kinds of horrific acts of human violence? Surely, we of all people cannot simply sit back in stunned silence and not speaking to a grieving world. Surely there are things that can be said, things that must be said for those who would be salt and light in a sin-cursed world. Let me suggest three things, at least, that we can do or say in the face of so much evil.
First we can weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). No Christian should be able to consider this tragedy without a deep sense of sorrow for the children and adults who died, the parents who have been robbed of their children, the siblings who will grow up trying to understand why a brother or sister was taken. So many people have been deeply touched by this crime.
Surely we can and should weep at the great depth of human suffering that has occurred. But we must also weep at the source of the suffering, for this is yet present with us—human depravity. Humanity’s great rebellion against God our Creator gives us all the capacity to do some horrific things apart from divine grace. Events like this are a vivid reminder of just how sin-cursed this world truly is. Surely this too is a cause for weeping. Perhaps also we should weep for our own sense of failure that we have not done more to savor the world. O, that someone had reached out to the shooter before his anger exploded.
Second, we can pray (1 Tim. 2:1). We pray for those who are left behind to pick up the pieces. We pray for those who will have to help the remaining children cope with the effects of this tragedy for years to come. We pray for the parents whose lives may never be restored. We pray for the police, the ambulance and fire personnel, and all those who in the course of serving the public good were compelled to witness the carnage. How will they ever sleep again? We are called to pray one for another and to bear one another’s burdens. While these texts primarily address the assembly, surely we can pray for those affected in Sandy Hook.
We can and should pray for those who are grieving. But we need to pray for more than this. We need to pray for a solution to this evil. We need to pray for a permanent fix. Above all, we need to pray for the coming of the only One who can ultimately heal this great human iniquity—the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6). Especially at this time of year, as we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,” we look forward to day when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords will vanquish all evil and bring in a season of unprecedented peace and tranquility. It is events like this that make us all long a little more deeply for heaven. This world is not our home; we are just passing through. But until the day when Christ returns or calls us to Himself, we need to pray and expect His coming. Only He can heal the brokenhearted. Only He can set all things right. Only He can bring peace to this world.
Finally, in answer to the question “What Child is This?” that so many seem to ask at this time of the year, we can proclaim loudly that “this, this is Christ the Lord!” (Mt 28:19-20) Now more than ever, as the world drifts deeper into darkness and chaos, we need to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the hope for the hurting, the Sin-bearer and Sacrifice-maker, the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus invites all who labor and are heavy laden to come unto Him and He will give rest (Mt. 11:28). We, through our proclamation of His message, extend that invitation to people today. Christmas may indeed be a time of family visits and holiday festivities, but it is also a good time to remind people that Jesus Christ came to cure the fallen world of all that afflicts it. Let this tragedy remind us as Christians that our job is still not finished. There is much to be done until Jesus comes! May the Lord find us faithful!