Monday, December 17, 2012

A Message after the Shootings in Newtown, Connecticut

December 16, 2012
Third Sunday of Advent
Magnify the Lord
Luke 1:39-56

Friday I was catching up with one of our staff in my office.  Laura, our administrator who works in the office next to me, came in and gave us the breaking news about Newtown, CT.  She didn’t give us many details, but enough.  Ashlee was right in the middle of telling me a story with a humorous ending.  But Laura’s breaking news pushed us into silence.  Ashlee ended our meeting with the words out of the silence:  “I don’t feel like finishing my story…”  And frankly, I wasn’t interested anymore.

Late Friday night, after what seemed like a long and busy day, and then most of Saturday morning, I finally got to read and listen to the unfolding details, and flooding commentary and thoughts expressed about this horrific crime in Newtown.  I laid in bed reflecting on everything I had read the night before and that morning, and thinking about worship the next day, when my daughter Madeleine came in to talk to me.  She wanted to meet some friends at the Galleria; but frankly, I was only half listening.  Unbeknownst to me, she picked up my iPhone which was lying beside me and snapped a picture of me.

 I found it about an hour later, and was surprised to see she captured me in a moment of obvious sadness.  I was lying on my side, my head propped comfortably on a pillow, caught up in my thoughts.  I expanded the picture and zoomed into my eyes and could see the vacancy.  It was then that I realized how much I was being affected by the shooting.

We are all impacted by the events on Friday.  We all come into this space this morning with heavier than normal hearts, and with questions – granted, some of us more than others.  As someone said to me this weekend, “Maybe it’s the fact that these were elementary school kids, but this one has hit me at a whole different level.  It just feels like evil.”

Personally, I get that.  And I am sure that a lot of us here this morning also get that. 

One of my colleagues from my days at Milligan College wrote a wonderful piece on the necessity of Lament that he posted on Facebook, where he said:
We must be careful not to turn away too quickly from anguish.  We must not pursue the pious palliative, the all-too-ready reason that rescues us from agony.  We must not rush to the “ah-yes-that’s-right”, the grand “oh yeah”, the big “a-ha!” that restores the old order that we thought we had lost. 

Today we look at a passage of Scripture that has traditionally been called The Magnificat, taken from the opening words of Mary when she sings in the presence of Elizabeth her cousin, “My soul magnifies the Lord…”  Saturday, as I lay in my personal moment of despair, thinking about the message I had already prepared, I have to be honest, I wasn’t feeling it.

And yet, I have to be honest also, that those words stayed with me throughout the rest of my day yesterday – through the funeral Dawn and I attended, the afternoon of Christmas shopping, and then the Christmas party at a neighbor’s – and they have stayed with me  up to this very moment.

 “My soul magnifies the Lord…” but I don’t feel like it today…not after this news.  And yet, inexplicably those words were and are also there in the space for me, and for some reason they did not and have not let me go.

Maybe part of it is because, I also know what follows.  A collection of Old Testament sayings from the prophets about God’s justice.  And though the justice is not apparent in the days of Mary nor are they, it seems, apparent in ours, it is a justice that God promises will be realized one day.  The day will come…

Mary’s words are these: 

My soul magnifies the Lord…
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
The Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name…
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but sent the rich away empty…

And I say – Yes, Mary – and when will that day come?  That is an Advent question, isn’t it?  When will that day come?  It is also an appropriate question, in light of Friday, in light of the broken world in which we live.  For Friday is an indication of something much larger and more pervasive.  The mass shooting raises serious questions about the health of our society and collective humanity.

I got to thinking – in conversation actually with one of my other daughters – What is it that I would really like to see reversed in the world?  Mary’s words communicate that a Great Reversal is coming.  That a Great Reversal was actually begun in the unfolding events of her own life when Gabriel visited her with the news that she would bear the Christ child.  And so I asked, What is really wrong that I would I want to set back right? 

The first thing I would do is end hunger and homelessness and disease.  Reverse it!  That would be a great reversal.

The second thing I thought came from watching a video clip of Leon Panetta announcing that the US is sending Patriot Missiles to Turkey on the border with Syria to help deal with what looks like a desperate madman who seems willing to use chemical and biological weapons.  World peace.  That too would be a great reversal.  A world where young men and women wouldn’t have to die in war.  A world where innocent people wouldn't die as collateral damage.

And now, Friday is added to my list.  I’d reverse shootings and massacres.

In Advent it is so appropriate to feel the anxiety about those things.  To long for the entire world to be set right.  To long for people to get the healthcare they need. To long for our educational system to be just.  And to long for our own worlds – our children, our marriages, our finances – where these things are broken – to be set right. 

Advent is when we become present to how things in the world are so out of whack.

And we cry out, standing before the promise that God will set the world one day to the right:  “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!”, another common prayer in Advent.

As my colleague back at Milligan said, “We must be careful not to turn away too quickly from anguish.  We must not pursue the pious palliative, the all-too-ready reason that rescues us from agony.”

 And yet, here stands the voice of Mary singing, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” 

I think what strikes me is that Mary’s song is not just a song.  But it is also an invitation. 

The fact is, I long for the Great Reversal to become apparent, but I’m deeply convicted at the same time, that I don’t want my life to substantially be changed to help bring it about. 

·        You see, the problem of world hunger perhaps begins with me buying less food and eating less. 
·        World peace perhaps requires me to live differently with my enemies sitting next to me.
·        The problems of a violent world begins with me rigorously examining my own attachments to violence.
·        And there are other things that relate to me a little closer to home.  I’m no different than you;  I want things better in my life, in my marriage, in my ministry, in my finances, in my relationship with my kids and family…and the list goes on. 

But the truth is that there is a part of me that doesn’t want to change substantially to make that happen.

And so, Mary’s song is not just a song;  it is an invitation for my life to magnify the Lord – in the things I say and the deeds I do. 
My colleague Jim didn’t stop with what I shared with you.  Yes, we should not rescue ourselves from agony too soon. 

“Rather,” he went on to say, “We must endure anguish until joy, finally born, shows up in the morning.  We must sit by the cross, view the tightly sealed tomb, contemplate our options in the absence of God, hear the groans of the woman in travail and wait...not for the easy answer that we just know some rescuer will supply but [wait] for the surprising God who stuns us with resurrection.

And so we lament this morning, we embrace the anguish, but we do so also remembering that Lament is that time between the last gasp of the old order and the birth of the new one.  Marantha!  Come, Lord Jesus!  Come!

The word of God, for the people of God…Thanks be to God.