Present at Christmas – Suffering

This Advent Season, I have been preaching through a series entitled Present at Christmas. We have been taking a look at some of the gifts that God gives to his children. Long before this weekend, my scheduled sermon for this Sunday was on the gift of suffering. It is difficult to preach on suffering on a weekend like this, where dozens of families are dealing with a pain that is greater than anything that I have ever been through. Below is my sermon from today. I hope that it blesses you as you continue to move through this weekend’s horror.

 

Christian Leaders Respond to the Tragedy in Connecticut

newtown mourningAny time our nation faces a tragedy like we did yesterday, it is important for us to process our grief. How a nation collectively grieves is as unique as the individuals that make up our great land, and the situations over which that grief has been borne.

As I watched our President grieve at the White House briefing yesterday, I also shed tears. In the past 24 hours I have seen some beautiful pieces written by Christian leaders.

Max Lucado posted this beautiful prayer here:

Dear Jesus,

It’s a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.

These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.

The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.

Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.

Hopefully,
Your Children

David Platt’s excllent post, The Gospel and Newtown, seeks to help readers wrestle with the age-old question of the goodness of an all-powerful God in the midst of such evil. This should be must reading for all people of faith.

Chris Surber, a pastor in Suffolk, Virginia wrote a beautiful piece entitled, I Want Christmas Toofor the Suffolk News-Herald.

Nicole Unice writes from the perspective of a mother and a theologian in her post Kneel and Pray for Newtown. Her writing helps us understand how to give your children framework for understanding good and evil.

John Piper writes about Jesus and Newtown in two posts entitled, How Does Jesus Come to Newtown? and A Lesson for All from Newtown.

Rachel Held Evans writes about the impact of social media on mourning, and our need to grieve together in her post Grieving Together.

Ed Stetzer writes about Three Ways Christians Should Respond to the Horror of a Broken World, encouraging us to pray, not be afraid to say that the world is horribly broken, and to do something.

Ann Voskamp reminds us of where God is in the dark of this weekend, here. ‘

Mark Becker, a pastor in St. Paul, MN writes about his anger, hurt and fear here.

Al Mohler wrote a healing piece at his blog entitled Rachel Weeping for Her Children – The Massacre in Connecticut, where he challenges us to affirm the sinfulness of sin and the full reality of human evil, to affirm the cross of Christ as the only adequate remedy for evil, to acknowledge the necessity of justice, knowing that Perfect Justice awaits the day of the Lord, and to grieve with those who grieve.

Finally, here are some of the tweets that have appeared in the past 24 hours by Christian leaders.

Anderson Driscoll Feinberg giglio Moore Osborne Smith Smith2 Stetzer Stier swindoll Warren

No Words . . .

NewtownI first saw the news on an Internet web page.

A gunman had once again done the unthinkable. As I write this, 27 people are confirmed dead at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, including 20 children. It is the worst elementary or middle school shooting in the history of the United States.

Incidents like this should never happen. When they do, there are no words that are adequate to numb the pain. Like our President, I view incidents like this from the lens of a parent. When my sons came home from school today, I hugged each one of them. Families all over our nation are experiencing the same thing tonight.There will be those who over the next several days who will ask where God was during this tragedy. It’s a normal question, and a fair one.

I believe with all of my heart that God was right there, with the victims, in their final moments. He was there when teachers made brave choices. He was there as law enforcement officers came face-to-face with the gravity of the situation at Sandy Hook. He will be there tonight, when parents hold each other and cry over the child they will bury instead of give Christmas gifts to. He will be there in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

While never walking with a family who has lost someone in a school shooting, I’ve walked with far too many families who have lost children. Well-meaning folks will tell families to just trust God day-by-day for their strength. These folks need more than day-to-day strength. They will need second-by-second strength just to make it through.

Our English language has no words for a parent who loses a child. We call those who lose a spouse a widow or widower. We call those who lose parents an orphan. We don’t have a word for those who lose a child, because the pain is just too much. It is not supposed to happen.

24 hours ago was just another Thursday night in America. These precious children were dreaming about Christmas. Parents were sharing a last meal with their kids with no idea of what lie ahead. I’m praying for these families tonight. I’m lifting up those who are leading in Connecticut in the aftermath of a senseless act. And, I’m praying that we don’t have another of these tragedies.We will be praying for these families at Woodbury Community Church this Sunday.

My wonderful Aunt Marlene, a pastor’s wife for decades, put the following prayer on her Facebook page today. It is one she found from a pastor named Mark Jeske.

Dear heavenly Father, We lift up all those families involved in the elementary school shooting today. How monstrous that an armed man should have forced innocent people in an elementary school to be part of his anger drama. How crushed are the hearts of parents who lost their children today in what was supposed to be a safe place. How long their grief will be. Our hearts are with them today and will be tomorrow too. Your all-seeing eyes have witnessed much terrible human cruelty over the centuries, and today you and we had to witness all over again how deeply Satan has his hooks in the human race.

Lord Jesus, you came to this broken world to be broken yourself. You wept at the graves of people you loved. Your human heart resonates with human grief. You know our sadness because you too are sad today. What great hope your first coming and your physical resurrection give us. You came to bring forgiveness of sins and immortality to all, and all who believe it have it. For the Connecticut families, for all the responders, and for all people who are experiencing death right now, we pray that the hope of resurrection in Jesus brings comfort to broken hearts.

Holy Spirit, let your Word move at this time. Let Christians share hope and comfort, and may all those whose lives were invaded by death remember and believe the Scripture’s bold promises that our Redeemer lives. We eagerly look forward to the time when death itself will have to die and we will never be separated again. In the meantime, bring comfort and hope to sad families, and somehow use this dreadful disaster to work some good and advance your saving agenda.

It is only through Jesus’ name that we can bring such huge requests to your throne. Amen.