Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Third Sunday of Advent
The Second Day after the shootings in Newtown, CT

Several years ago, my daughter Heather was a student at Tulane University.  She emailed me one Monday about her weekend.  She had been in the French Quarter with friends until the wee hours of Sunday morning and had taken the streetcar back uptown to the campus.  Now the only problem with that statement is that the streetcar doesn’t go anywhere near the dorms on the Tulane campus.  There is a long stretch of unoccupied classroom buildings to walk through first and it is not all that well lit.  So you can imagine my reaction.
“What do you think you are doing walking across campus at 3:00 a.m.??  It’s not at all safe!”

Not long after that, another coed did exactly what Heather had done and was raped and murdered.  The morning after the news broke, I emailed Heather and told her I hoped she was proud of me for not coming uptown and snatching her home to stay.  It was the first thing I thought to do when I heard the awful news.

I suspect many people wanted to rush to schools and snatch their children home last Friday.  Or got on the phone just to talk to grown children and see how the grandchildren, nieces and nephews were.  Our first response to such a tragedy as occurred at Sandy Hook is to make sure our own are safe.  We are horrified that something like this could happen at all.  But, as our president said on Friday, “As a country, we have been through this too many times.”

So it seems almost obscene to hear words of rejoicing and safety in the Lord in our first three readings this morning.  We want to jump over them all and get to, “You brood of vipers!  Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees.”  We want words of vengeance and anger.  We want to interpret the collect –Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us – as meaning that God will swoop in and devour the evil ones while we stand by and applaud.

Alas, that is not what the collect is imploring.  It is calling on God to instill in us, despite our sins which sorely hinder us, the strength to be God’s hands.  We are asking God’s grace and mercy to help us and to deliver us from our sins so that we can do the work we have been given.  It is not a prayer for militant response but one that, when answered, brings joy.

And here’s the interesting thing about John the Baptist’s diatribe about vipers and raising up sons of Abraham from stones and cutting down trees that do not produce good fruit.  The people to whom he is speaking do not seem to cower in fear of jeer this crazy man dressed in ragged furs.  Instead, they ask John, “what, then, should we do?”  And John does not tell them that they need to set out on a great journey, visiting many holy places, slaying dragons and seeking hidden symbols of power.  He doesn’t tell them to dress in sackcloth and ashes and deprive themselves of food and drink.

No, John tells them to do things that can be done right that very minute.  “If you have two coats, give one to someone with none.  Share your food with those who haven’t enough.

John doesn’t tell tax collectors to quit their jobs but says they should only collect that which is prescribed.  Soldiers, too, were told to be satisfied with their wages and not to intimidate and bully people into giving them extra cash.

If this world were a more equitable place, where we didn’t talk about the 2% or the 47% but considered how we can make it possible for everyone to have a chance to have enough, then we will have done what John asked.  As a community, we began that journey when many of you started cooking and delivering meals for Meals on Wheels.  Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked continues to be a significant part of our ministry here.  And we know that we are called to continue until there is no longer any need.

We do not have to travel to Newtown, CT to grieve with the town that lost 27 people to senseless violence last Friday.  There is nothing we can do to turn back the clock and restore life to those who died and, while some of us may have the experience to understand what it is like to lose a child, we really don’t have any words to offer that will ease their hearts.  They need only know that we are praying for them, today and for many months to come.  A letter to the Newtown Bee or to the local Episcopal Church expressing our love will let them know our continued support in prayer.

But then we must pay attention to the rejoicing in the first three lessons.  Do not think that rejoicing and sorrow are on different planets.  We cannot have one without the other.  If we never suffered pain and sorrow, we would not know what rejoicing felt like and the converse is also true – a world of only rejoicing is meaningless and dull unless we have something to contrast it with.  I don’t know why that it is or should be but I know it to be true.  The joy I will feel at seeing my son out of prison on January 3 is greatly increased by the fact that he was there in the first place.  It will be a resurrection moment for my family.

There will be resurrection moments for the people of Newtown.  I don’t know when or how but I am confident that God has those people held close and, just as we have been delivered to the other side of grief and sorrow on many an occasion, so will they.  One day, they will again say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again, I say, rejoice.”

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