Slaughter of the Innocent

12/16/12

The tragedy of the slaughter of the innocent in Newtown on Friday has stunned not only the immediate community but also thinking and caring people in this country and even abroad.

I hesitate to comment upon current events or to make my political views known either privately or from the pulpit because they are far more complex and nuanced than might appear. I also chafe at clergy who rush in to comment upon tragedy as though fresh from a shower of innocence. It seems to me a narcissistic desire to be important and even relevant, when usually they are neither. My vision is on the one hand the vision of tragedy and on the other hand my perception is one of faith and hope.

Several things came to mind when I heard of the slaughter in Newtown. First was the account in the gospels of the slaughter by Herod of the innocent new born babes following the birth of Jesus. Heart breaking and full of unbearable anguish. A sharp contrast over against the incarnation of God’s love, of God’s Son, of Jesus the Christ.

I was also reminded that through out the world, every day young, innocent children are slaughtered by wars of genocide, by suicide bombers and by the fall out of wars. In addition there are regular reports from around the world of buses and trains full of people being involved in horrific accidents.

The tragic vision is alive and well in our daily lives. Thank God most of us are protected from the events and their fall out. But many aren’t and most likely all of us will confront tragedy in either a 911 event or something else.

The third thing that came to mind is that this is the season of Advent. For most of us it is the season of preparation for Christmas. My wife has a black belt in shopping and has been diligently exercising our credit cards in pursuit of the perfect gift for our granddaughter, nieces, in-laws and outlaws. This is the season of pursuing secular gratifications and pleasures and the good things of life. A tragedy such as the slaughter of the innocents in Newtown bites deep into our natural desires for the good life for those whom we love.

But in the liturgical year the season of Advent is a time of penitence, a time of looking upon what we have done and what we have left undone. It is a time of self-examination and of taking a hard look at sin and evil in their myriad forms.

So there seemed to be a dreadful fitting of this terrible tragedy of the slaughter of the innocents in this period of penitence. The reality of evil and sin in the world has broken through in a most graphic and terrible manner. A mentally ill, deranged youth perpetrated this atrocity upon his family and upon his own community.

Evil is part of existence. The Gospel of John eloquently speaks of the forces of light and the forces of darkness. Where there is weakness, illness, obsession or any of the human frailties, there seems to be a cancerous force that corrupts and destroys. The result is tragedy on the human scale, which is often unbearable.

The message of Advent is the recognition of the destructive power of sin and evil in our all too human world. But this message is not a final counsel of despair. It is the introduction to the event of Christmas. It prepares us to open our hearts, minds and eyes to the incarnation of God’s love in an infant, in a manager, in Bethlehem of Judea over 1,900 years ago. God’s fulfillment of the prophets and of the yearnings of His people came to fruition and rejoiced the angels and the shepherds and the wise men.

Yes, there was the slaughter of innocent children following the birth of Jesus. But there was also the life of Christ and the event of the crucifixion and resurrection, seen in our own crucifix over the raredos. In that we have the participation of God’s love and suffering in our own suffering. You and I are not alone. You and I also have the assurance of the resurrection and of life eternal. That means that evil and death are ultimately defeated; they are not the last word, as St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us. (1) The dimensions of our lives, our souls, extend beyond this mortal coil. In our sorrow we shed the tears of Christ and we are never, never alone. We are called to love, to hold and to share our faith and our participation in the body of Christ, though our lives and our actions.

Someone once said that all that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (2) Yes, we need to renew the Bush ban on assault weapons. We need to spike the demands of the NRA and the proliferation of weapons. These are complicated issues, and I was reared knowing how to use a rife, obtaining my marksmanship merit badge as part of becoming an Eagle Scout.

Connecticut has the strongest gun control laws in the country. But the accessibility of assault weapons and firearms has gone beyond rational limits.  This needs to be corrected.

Evil will persist. That is no comfort to those who suffer. But there is divine comfort and healing grace in the message of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, whose birth we anticipate. The Holy Spirit guides you and me and Christians everywhere as we walk through the valleys of the shadow of death.

Today’s collect is a plea for God’s spirit to strengthen and guide us in times of grief and sorrow. “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sin, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.” Praise be to God. Amen. – Fr. Gage-

(1) I Corinthians 15:26.
(2) Edmund Burke, quoted by JF
(3) BCP p. 160