How do we absorb this news? A masked gunman in Newtown, Conn., massacred an entire section of an elementary school. The 27 he killed included 20 small children.
As the story broke on Friday, a Fox News anchor fought a quivering lip as she asked a psychiatrist: “How does someone execute 5-year-olds?”
President Barack Obama openly wept as he expressed the nation’s grief during a press conference, and ordered flags flown at half-mast.
A parent talking to a CNN reporter by phone rejoiced that her own child was unharmed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but she mourned for the victims: “How did this happen here?” A few moments later, she asked, “How does this happen at Christmas?”
Over the next week, twinkling lights and sentimental songs may seem unbearable to many in Newtown, a quaint hamlet of 27,000 people about 80 miles north of New York City. But some Christmas songs seem painfully fitting: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” And this plea: “O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny.”
Horrific mass shootings aren’t the only sign that the world is pining under the effects of sin and darkness. In my own small circle, a colleague is facing the sudden death of his father, a young mother is mourning abandonment by her husband, and Christian friends in Egypt are emailing to say their freedoms are fading.
The deep woes don’t make Christmas less palatable. They make it more urgent. In his book God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas Is the Foundation for Everything, Douglas Wilson reminds us:
“In one sense, of course, Jesus is the reason for the season. But in another fundamental sense, sin is the reason for the season. We have not entered into a season of feel-goodism, where we think about soft snow and candlelight, with silver bells in the distance.
“Remember Ramah weeping for her children, remember our abortion mills, remember how dark this world is without Christ, and then cling in faith to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Mary’s only Savior is our only hope for salvation as well.”
In the days ahead, the streets and churches of Newtown will echo with the lamenting sounds of parents weeping for their children. At least 20 funerals will include 20 tiny caskets too small to comprehend.
But Christmas will still come, and its message will be especially for those who grieve. Indeed, its message will come from a suffering servant, a man of sorrows, and one who is acquainted with grief. It will come from one who invites those sitting in darkness to feel their sorrow, but also to plead: “From depths of hell Thy people save, and give them victory o’er the grave.”
And just like the last Christmas, He will invite the grieving to hope in this promise: “Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”