When tragedy hits, we ask why. It is visceral, perhaps even instinctual, and almost involuntary. For the past 48 hours I have mostly sat quiet in my house, mostly alone, listening to people process an unthinkable event, a moment of real evil. How did this happen? How could this happen? Thankfully one of my friends just said it outright, “How can there be a loving God in a world like this.” We want to understand, we want to explain, at least in hopes that we can make this happen less often. We dwell on the moment, on the suffering, and ask ourselves, “How can this make any sense.” But this violence does not make sense. It never will, nor should it. There will never be a thought pondered or a sentence uttered that could ever make any one of us pause and say, “well, yes, now I get it.” This is simply evil. There is no sense inside it at all.
I woke this morning painfully aware that everyone who is going off to Church today is going to light the odd pink candle in their advent wreaths and celebrate gaudete Sunday, or more poignantly stated, Joy Sunday. It feels like a set up. This whole thing seems staged, doesn’t it? And just in the mere poetry of the whole thing it makes the day feel like it wants to be ironic, a cruel punchline, a bit of sarcasm from a most awful god. But this is not irony. It is a confrontation. It is a vocation, a call to change. This day in Advent says God has nothing to do with that violence, at least not yet, and it is time for that to change.
“Joy.” Ugh. Honestly, I still cringe at the word when it is used some times. A lot of my experience with the use of the word is associated with outright dishonesty, just fake happiness for the sake of looking like a good Christian. Right? Because all Christians should always be joyful. And if you are not joyful then, well, try harder. But true joy is not pollyannish optimism. Joy is not the infinite ability to find a silver lining. “If we just keep looking we can find some good in this.” Please, no.
Please do not go looking too hard to find the good in the violence itself. It is not there.
Todays readings in Church make it clear that God’s kingdom is the opposite of that. God’s kingdom is a place without predators. The kingdom Jesus brings is one in which the lame walk, the blind see and prisoners go free. It is not one where God hides in the rubble of tragedies expecting us to smile big and trust that evil has some inherent meaning or cryptic message. There is no inherent “meaning” in acts of evil. There is no joy to be found in violence.
Our efforts to find meaning, sense or joy are often so passive. We want there to be something redemptive already at work, balancing the scales of good and evil as if balance is a good thing. But the lessons of Advent remind us that the kingdom of God is not here…yet. Not everything is how God wants it to be, this is not what we were created for. We all had a hand in getting us here, and we all can have a hand in setting things right.
The kingdom of God is not some mysterious spaceship that will land as soon as we seem to get all of laws rightly legislated. No the kingdom of God is something which has to be built. And where is God in all of this? God is here asking us to build it. It is our job to take chaos and turn it into something sensible. It is our job to give meaning where there is none. That is to say, the story is still being written and this episode has no meaning yet. But the story is still being written. What we choose to do next with our lives, how we choose to live in a world of this particular brand of darkness will determine if there is any real meaning to any of this.
Joy does not keep its chin up, it keeps its eyes forward, its feet planted, and its arms open. Joy is not a thing I keep bottled up in my soul like some kind of nuclear powered heart as if I were a spiritual kind of Iron Man super hero. Joy is something given, shared, traded, found, forged and made. Joy is something that comes like grace, but something we have to work to make room for.
It may not be time for us to feel joy right now, but it is time for us to pave the way for it for others, for it is the nature of God’s kingdom. A kingdom in which these awful things cease to happen.
The lives that were lost can only be mourned. Nothing will ever make up for these losses. But it is up to us whether we honor those lives by constantly re-membering them. Who knows what good things God was bringing to the world through them? Only God did. But what we do know is that we can still bring good things. Everyday children die unnecessarily and tragically, and we can stop this. It can be stopped. Sometimes changing a world is much much easier than we think.
What would you have done to stop this from happening? What will you do now?
So pick a name. Pick any one of their names, just one. Remember that name and then today help that child, that teacher, that hero echo through your life. Go put some more light somewhere on their behalf so that they can keep on giving to others in this world through you. Echo their best gifts, their intentions, their vocations, by continuing to do the good in the world they might have done. For God was in those things. And God can become those things in our lives today.
It is not ironic that today is joy Sunday. It is a confrontation. It is a vocation, a call to change. This day in Advent says God has had nothing to do with that violence, at least not yet, and it is time for that to change. The joy is simply that God is not done with us yet.
Choose a name and do some good.
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Rachel Davino, 29
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Dawn Hocksprung, 47
Madeline F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Lauren Russeau, 30*
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N Wyatt, 6