Why is it that it takes tragedy to get our attention?
Why can’t we change until we lose something?
Why do we think it’s always going to happen to someone else until it happens to us?
A year ago today, I was at home writing my Christmas Eve sermon (yes, some of us write these things before the night before…), finished, and turned to my Facebook feed. And the accelerating number of posts about “a shooting” in a “Connecticut elementary school” made me turn on the news and search the Internet for details.
A twenty-year-old shot twenty elementary school children, six adults, and himself.
On April 15, four months and one day later, two young men took shrapnel-loaded pressure cookers to the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring nearly three hundred more. (A fourth victim would later die in a shootout, along with one of the bombers.)
On July 4, someone fired into the air ‘celebrating’ the U.S.’ Independence Day, killing seven-year-old Brendon Mackey.
Does the violence sicken us? Or do we write it off?
Jesus said that those who mourn will be comforted (the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:4). Maybe he meant that for eternity, in heaven, reunited with those they love. But what if he meant that for now? What if the comfort is supposed to be from those around them, who show themselves to be truly compassionate in the present?
What if the comfort comes in the presence of change?
Newtown remembers and looks to hope; the 2014 Boston Marathon will potentially be the most powerful race run since… ever, as essays by people like this earned entry into the race; the parents of Mackey still seek closure. But if we don’t change who we are, if we don’t change how we act, then what difference does it make?
If we don’t recognize that guns kill people more efficiently than a mentally ill person with a knife, that our behavior as communities and nations does impact the way that others look at us, that ‘celebrating’ with weapons, alcohol, etc. have ramifications, how can we expect the cycle of violent deaths to end?
In Luke 2, the angel shows up in the fields, speaking to a bunch of illiterate, isolated, bottom-of-the-food-chain shepherds, and says, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Is it any wonder that the angel’s message began with the instruction “not to be afraid” and ended with a child? Can we recognize that our future is tied to our children, and that if we don’t protect them, if we don’t raise them well, then our future is just as messed up as the present?
This Christmas, we’ll buy stuff, give stuff, receive stuff. But what happens if we individually practice peace, give hope, share love? Maybe we can achieve “peace on earth,” but it has to start with us, and we better start soon.