The Road Ahead

Someone said to me after church that they hoped this was the most difficult sermon I ever have to preach.  I have to agree.

Thanks for reading, friends.  xo

***

Matthew 2:13-16

The Road Ahead

What is there left for me to say that you have not already heard on the news, read on your Facebook newsfeeds or even said out loud yourselves?

In the wake of Friday’s tragedy in Newtown, I – like so many others – just find myself at a loss for words.

As I watched President Obama try to maintain his composure during a press conference on Friday afternoon, I could not help but think that I was not seeing and listening to the leader of our country; I was watching a father, a husband, a citizen of the United States of America and a human being absolutely heartbroken by what had happened earlier that day.

I hope that you did not come here for answers this morning – I simply do not have them.

They teach us a lot in seminary, but that question of why bad things happen to good people is one that still remains unanswered. It remains unanswered in the academic world, it remains unanswered in the church it certainly remains unanswered in the town of Newtown, Connecticut this morning.

I do not need to recount the details for you or usurp my own investigative theories as to how or why someone might have done this – that will get us nowhere. Like President Obama, I stand before you this morning not as your leader, but as a U.S. citizen and a human being absolutely devastated by what has taken place. I stand here as a Connecticut native and the friend of several who live in Newtown, many of whom have small children. I stand here as the daughter of a teacher in a neighboring district and the sister of a social worker with clients at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Massacred violence is never okay – but this one hit entirely too close to home for me.

Today marks the third week of the Advent season. And I am sorry, but I simply cannot preach on joy today.

I am sure that many of my friends and colleagues would remind me that God’s light always shines, even in the midst of devastation and tragedy, and that there is joy to be found in that light. And they are right. These are words that I, myself, have spoken many times.

But this morning I am angry.

I am angry at what happened in Newtown on Friday morning, I am angry at the shootings that I have watched from afar throughout my lifetime, and I am angry at what has happened over and over again in our world for thousands of years.

We all know the Christmas story. Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem to be registered with Emperor Augustus’ census. While they were there Mary gave birth to Jesus, wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger. Shepherds watched over their flocks from a distance and after some time had passed wise men showed up with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

This is usually the point in the story on Christmas Eve where we close our bibles, sing “Joy To The World!” and send forth our congregations with great celebration.

But unfortunately, the story does not end there.

Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about the search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” When Herod say that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. {Matthew 2:13-16}

You can understand why we tend to leave this part of the story out.

My point is this. Very often we reduce the bible into two categories: The war and violence of the Old Testament and the compassion and peace of the New Testament, the Old Testament God of hatred and the New Testament God of love. But it is not that simple.

Yes, Jesus preached good news and brought salvation with him to the cross, but over three decades earlier he was born as an innocent baby into an extremely violent world. And he died an extremely violent death.

And 2,000 years later, not much has changed.

Where is the joy in this? Where is the joy, not only in the tragedy unfolding in Connecticut, but also in this enigmatic Christmas story that has bits and pieces of violence mixed in with peace and innocence?

I am not sure I am prepared to answer that question this morning. I may never be.

But I will say this – we have to continue to journey forward.

Jesus may have been born into a violent world, but he also called for a radical change in the way human beings think and act. What did not change in his lifetime he prayed would change in the lifetimes that were still to come. He showed us how to love our enemies, resist oppression and exploitation, reach out to the marginalized and maintain dignity in the face of adversity.

We need to heed that call in our own lives and in our own faith.

At this point, we cannot afford not to. There is too much at stake.

We may not be able to erase the violence in our world, but we can shape the paths that lie ahead of us.

We can promote peace over violence, love over hatred and friendship against all odds.

We can show strong resistance to the people around who us who seek to foster a world fueled by negativity.

We can show respect to everyone – everyone – we meet along our journeys through life.

We can take seriously the notion that small and random acts of kindness can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

We can put the needs of others before the needs of our own.

We can let go of the little things that really do not matter and focus on the big picture.

We can use the resources we have – large or small – to bring joy to someone who is hurting or is in need, even if it is just for a moment.

We can hug the people around us.

We can use choose our words carefully, using them as tools of peace, compassion and kindness and not of pride, gossip and hatred.

We can be active participants in communities of faith like this church, communities that open our eyes to the world around us, that create opportunities for outreach and service and that foster friendship and support among the people within it.

We can light candles of hope, peace, joy and love – even when the world seems particularly dark.

On second thought – we can light candles of hope, peace, joy and love – especially when the world seems particularly dark.

God’s light does shine in the midst of devastation and tragedy – I truly do believe that.

But we have to carry that light with us out into the world. And that is one of the biggest reasons that, year after year, we retell this Christmas story.

We are not that far from Bethlehem. We are not that far from the peace of the quiet manger, we are not that far from the violence that Mary and Joseph fled from and we are not that far from the discipleship that Christ called us into.

We are not that far from the violence that we have all witnessed throughout our lives. And we are not that far from Friday’s tragedy in Newtown.

These are the roads that we have travelled to get to this point in our journeys. We cannot change them.

But we can decide what the road ahead looks like.

May God bless you and your families throughout the remainder of this Christmas season.

And may hope, peace, joy and love prevail – in your homes, in our communities, in this country and throughout the world.

Let there be peace on earth.

Amen.

3 thoughts on “The Road Ahead

  1. I was with the kids so I didn’t get to hear this, but what a powerful message. Given the anguish and shock we all feel, your words are truly a comfort. Well done.

  2. This is all very well put , Sarah ~ my heart & mind is with all thosae affected by this senseless act of violence . I have family members in Sandy Hook . All in due time , we will be able to swallow what has transpired but will never feel it is okay .

  3. Sarah,
    Thank you so much for this beautiful sermon. My brother and sister-in-law Joe & Kate Cherepowich belong to your congregation and we were lucky enough to visit your church last year. I sure wish you were on Long Island. I have signed up for your emails and will follow your sermons. This is an inspiration and I thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas, Heather

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