A sermon from December 2012 that is sadly still relevant today

Hi friends,

Today I feel an incredible weariness as the news tells us of yet another massacre. I feel as if I have no words and can even sense a loss of hope. Not  in God, but in the collective will of the people of our nation. Here is a sermon that I preached a few days after so many precious children were killed. Sadly nothing has changed.

This sermon was part of a series where we looked at a verse each week from the song “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”. This was week three of the series, verse three of the song.

And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow:
look now, for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing;
oh, rest beside the weary road
and hear the angels sing!
(verse 3, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear)

This week our preschool had their Christmas programs… those cute little events where children stand up and sing and their parents act like unruly children as they jostle with each other trying to get a better look. Our last program was on Friday at 10am. I usually come in about five minutes early and sit in my usual chair.

Just before the Friday program I looked at the newsfeed on my iPhone. And so it happened that as the little children were making their way into the church I saw the headline: 26 dead; 18 of them children (that would later become 20). I had already planned to share these words from my favorite Christmas book:

“You know you have the Christmas spirit when the sight of loved ones brings tears to your eyes and you are thankful to God for them and for you.”

I barely got through these words and I am sure that many parents were wondering why the pastor was getting choked up over a preschool Christmas program. I will never forget watching all those little ones sing while thinking about the tragic events three thousand miles away.

This is a weekend when a sermon is not that easy. Because really, what do you say in the face of unspeakable tragedy, unspeakable evil?

Last Christmas Eve, I was inspired to use the song, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, as a theme for Advent this year. It was a few weeks ago that I sat down and coupled the words that we just read together with texts that to me seemed to capture the feeling of the songs verses.

And what is that feeling? In verse three, it is weariness of life where the worries and disappointments and unspeakable evil and incomprehensible tragedy weigh upon us so heavily that we feel as if we are being crushed. Look at the words again of the song, the first half of the verse…

And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow:

What is a crushing load? Before Friday I was thinking of my own woes, but they do not seem as important today. The poet paints a word picture of someone stooped under such a heavy load that he or she can barely move… But move this person must… Upward with painful step after painful step.

What is a crushing load?

Violence visited upon our children and their teachers in the places of learning.

Violence in a shopping mall, a movie theater, a place of worship, a place of relaxation, on street corners, in homes.

Violence… violence… violence.

We as a nation are bent low… with painful steps and will see more and more tragedy until we as a people stand up and say, “enough!”

Today we mourn… today we try to understand. Why did all these children die when they should be playing and singing and preparing for Winter break, which is really Christmas vacation. They should be preparing to celebrate the birth of another child, a different child, a child who will save us all. These children should be home with their parents and now their parents are preparing funerals. That is not the kind of funeral anyone wants to plan.

I am sure that many are saying words similar to that found in our reading from Isaiah,

“God pays no attention to us! He doesn’t care if we are treated unjustly.”

What do we say to that? How can we take away the pain contained in these words? The truth is that we alone can’t. We don’t have the words… but I believe that our scripture has words that remind us that we are not alone… and the God will give us strength…

The Lord gives strength to those who are weary.”

Can that strength inspire us to action?

And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow:

You… that you is you and me… it is all of us and we are called to attention:

Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing; oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!

Look… change is coming… so take a moment to rest beside the weary road upon which we all travel… stop, rest, and listen. When we listen to the angels we hear words of peace… but maybe that peace seems elusive. So what other messages does God send our way?

We have the words of Jesus…

“If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest. This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light. (Mt 11:28-30).

A yoke is that thing that is placed on the back of a work animal… it keeps it in line. Jesus’ yoke is that which guides us. One could say that his yoke is the law… and when we really think about the law it is concerned with how we treat one another… it calls us to love.

In times of tragedy we feel love toward our neighbor more acutely… why else do we shed tears for those we don’t know? In times of tragedy we might wonder, where God is in all of it? Don’t think that God condoned this… or wanted it to happen… don’t listen to those who say it is because God wanted those children… don’t listen to those who say it is because we don’t pray enough.

We live in a fallen world where tragedy happens… where evil happens. God did not create us as puppets and so we live in a world where we have freedom to choose our behavior and sometimes we use that freedom to do the most heinous things. The events of this week are a sad reminder of that.

We also have the freedom to love… to care for strangers… and to come together as a people and find ways to protect one another… to stand up for one another. Together, as God’s children we can be powerful in our love.

It is Advent… we await the coming of Jesus, to save us… to bring peace to the world. In this we are no different than those who came before us. We long for the day when violence and sickness and hunger and hardship will cease.

We long for that day knowing that today we are not alone… remembering the words of Paul…

I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:38-39) 

And it is for this reason that even in the midst of tragedy and with broken hearts we can sing of our joy that the Lord has come. May our Lord lead us to work together so that no more children need to die.

Amen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s