Tragedy upon tragedy, evil of evils.
The story which flashed around the globe last week of the killing of 20 primary school-age children and six adults at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut was all so sickening.
The shock is universal and anyone who tries to contemplate what happened can only cry.
There would be no shame in it.
In this whole terrible episode, the silence of the children is the loudest, most eloquent voice and many would have been reminded of that famous verse from the Gospel of Matthew taken, in turn, from the prophet Jeremiah following Herod’s killing of the Innocents:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they were no more.”
That this event occurred as we approach Christmas must have struck some as eerily coincidental, serving in the most unexpected of ways to give us a glimpse of how Herod’s massacre must have been experienced at the time.
Herod’s slaughter is eternally associated with the birth of Christ and, we imagine, in a small town in America Christmas will for a very long time be associated mainly with the painful memory of another massacre of children.
Both those who committed their respective crimes were certainly deranged; one a madman drunk on lust and paranoia, the other a mass murderer but for reasons as yet unknown.
There is nothing we can say to those who have lost the sweet, beautiful innocence and the unique, unrepeatable wonder of their children that could possibly help them in this moment.
Time, it is sometimes said, heals all wounds. Perhaps, perhaps not. Certainly each of those beautiful little children will never be forgotten by their families and, one imagines, by the community of Newtown where they lived and died.
Words of encouragement to pass through the darkness must be spoken, certainly, but first the grief must be allowed to work its slow, terrible healing.
More important in the years to come will be the actions of those surrounding the grieving families for it will always be true: love is best expressed in actions.
But, some may wonder, is it possible that the slaughter of the Innocents in Newtown may, in turn, lead unexpectedly to something one day that makes not only their home town but their country a better place – where weapons of war are not sold indiscriminately over the counter to anyone with sufficient proof of identification?
It is already possible to contemplate the possibility that one day a safer nation may turn to these murdered children as the eloquent symbol of a defining moment of change in its history. Only time will tell.
In the strangest of ways, we may yet learn some lesson from this tragedy.
The story of Christmas is so often conveyed in syruppy, sentimental ways by the world of popular entertainment, or taken advantage of by the world of commerce, or simply not understood by so many of us, treating it – as we do – as simply a holiday and a shopping spree.
Christians see the true meaning of Christmas because they see the true meaning of the figure who is born at this time.
They don’t miss the entire point of the story.
They don’t fail to see what it means.
And then there are so many people in our society and our world, millions, who simply miss out on the chance to hear this story and to see what it means.
Christians are meant to be the witnesses for them.
At Christmas, in a world whose entire history had been held in the grip of sin and suffering – and often incomprehensible suffering at that – heaven enters into our midst and for the first time in human history we see the face of God.
It can only be called stupendous, unparallelled, amazing.
All of these things are true. But they cannot be called incomprehensible because God has revealed God to us.
This fact alone dispels all uncertainty about the meaning of our lives.
This child in a manger is not only a sweet picture for the sentimental but is also the decisive action of God.
This child opens up to each of us the the true meaning of our own lives, the possibility of our own individual destinies, in this life and beyond. Why? Because God has become one of us.
The story of the life of Jesus is one that begins with the dark, incomprehensible evil of the slaughter of the Innocents by Herod and ends with the apparently dark, incomprehensible defeat of the Cross.
And yet, as Christians know and see, it does not end there at all.
Christ’s victory over death emerges form the worst evil and gives us the only hope that can sustain our lives.
Evil does not and will not finally win.
And the hope that begins with Christ’s conception and birth is, ultimately, the only thing that can enable us not to be defeated in our own lives or as a society by the malignant evil which can carry out such terrible actions as those we know about.
Christmas is meant to be a time of wonder and a time of joy.
These things can sometimes seem hard to find, hard to hang on to.
But perhaps it is because we do not spend enough time in our lives gazing upon the face of a child in a simple manger, a child who will one day defeat all the evil in the world and all the evil of human history.
He beckons to us, as do his mother and his foster father. We can only say yes to his call.