Newtown: Where was God?
I am certainly not the only one who was more deeply moved than usual at the Christmas pageant this year.
The faces of the young angels dressed in white and the fake-bearded shepherds seemed especially vulnerable and innocent. Those precious faces will surely elicit from any sensitive heart a great sigh of grief for the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School whose children were slain last Friday. That someone would slaughter such helpless children is unthinkable.
“Where was God?” It is a question that has been asked times past numbering, rising as it does out man’s encounters with such evil. It surely arose long ago in Bethlehem, when soldiers carrying out the orders of Herod slaughtered the Holy Innocents.
To us was born a Savior, but did it have to cost the lives of the infants of Bethlehem? Could there be no warning dream to the parents of these children? Bethlehem “makes ready” for Emmanuel, but for Herod, too?
It seems the answers to such questions remain opaque; the best we can do is respond simply with the word of the Christmas Gospel. Where was God in Bethlehem? He was speechless, lying in a Manger. Where was God when Herod’s men came? He was held in the arms of his mother while they escaped Herod’s soldiers by fleeing to Egypt.
Yes, he escaped for a reason. Years later he was scourged and nailed to a cross on Calvary; his body was placed in a new tomb. His mother, who saw him safely into Egypt, stood weeping at Golgotha. After the Sabbath, the women disciples made their way to God’s grave on Easter morning, broken-hearted and without hope.
Yet this God, also a man, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Moreover, he has promised to be with us to the end of age. And so he is, in the breaking of the Bread. For we shall find God Incarnate when we come to be fed by him, the Bread of Life. He is the One whom the shepherds found in the feeding trough (manger) of Bethlehem, the “House of Bread.”
The families of Newtown must bear their grief in ways most of us cannot grasp, mourning as did the bereaved parents of Herod’s Bethlehem and as countless others over the course of centuries. To those who grieve, who feel what they take to be the absence of God, the Lord says, “This is my body, broken for you. Take, eat.” We can become like children, comforted by being fed.
Thousands of young angels will continue to sing in their pageants and little robed shepherds will march to the manger to see Emmanuel, wrapped in swaddling cloths. As we ponder their sweet faces, our hearts should be troubled to think of anyone doing violence to any child, anywhere, at any time. Alas, our world has grown hardened to such love.
Like the myrrh-bearing women, on their grief-shrouded mission to the tomb, we must bear the weight of earthly sorrow and simply do what love and devotion demand of us. Our hearts break, but in their breaking we discover a path to another world where joy heals the broken heart and love wipes away every tear. We have heard the voice of the angel, greeting us with living words like lightning, “He is not here; he is risen. Come, and behold the place.”
“Make ready, O Bethlehem; for Eden hath been opened for all. Prepare, O Ephratha; for the Tree of Life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin. For her womb did appear as a supernatural paradise, in which is planted the Divine Plant, whereof eating we shall live and not die as Adam. Verily, Christ shall be born, raising the image that fell of old” (Orthodox Hymn, Prefeast of the Nativity).
[James M. Kushiner is the executive director, Fellowship of St. James in Chicago, Ill. He also is the executive editor of “Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity,” a bimonthly magazine that has an editorial board of Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians. The website is www.touchstonemag.com/. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]