By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
[Luke 1:78-79 NRSV]
Three years ago, on December 14, 2012, a 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook elementary school and fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members. Before driving to the school, Lanza shot and killed his mother at their Newtown, Connecticut, home. As first responders arrived at the scene, Lanza fatally shot himself in the head.
On December 2 of this year, Syed Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, donning ski masks and dressed in tactical gear, stormed into an office holiday party in the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, and unleashed a barrage of bullets that killed at least 14 people and injured 21. The motives are as yet unclear for the couple’s attack on this center that provides social services to residents with developmental disabilities. Farook, who worked at the center, and Malik, were themselves killed in a shootout with police several hours later.
Not much has changed. You could argue that things have gotten worse. In between these two horrific events, this nation has witnessed more than a thousand mass shootings, defined as those where four or more are wounded or killed. This year alone, they number 355 – an average of more than one a day – spanning 221 cities and 47 states. In 2014 there were 337 mass shootings and 364 in 2013. There are now several groups, namely ShootingTracker.com, Gun Violence Archive, and Everytown for Gun Safety, that are tracking these statistics.
As one of my friends posted on Facebook, “If this is the most wonderful time of the year, brother are we in trouble!”
Advent is the season that is supposed to bring hope, peace, love and joy. Yet what we are experiencing as a nation, and as a world, is anxiety, anger, violence and grief. We long for rest, relaxation, quality time with family, and the coming of the Messiah. But we crowd every possible minute with obligations and stresses and shut the door to God’s healing love and compassion.
As I browsed through my old sermons from three years ago in preparation for this weekend, I came across a prayer prepared by The Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell. She is currently pastor of Burien Community Church (American Baptist) in Burien, Washington, and is also on staff at Open Gathering Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ new church plant. She previously was senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Framingham, Massachusetts. The Rev. Welton-Mitchell is also a writer, retreat leader and resources creator.
I used this as my sermon prayer for our Saturday evening service three years ago for the Third Sunday of Advent. It seems just as fitting today as it did then. The words are not mine, but they express so well what I cannot.
Let us pray.
There are no words. There is nothing that we can say but instead we cry out. We cry out in shared grief and pain for the loss of so many children. We do not understand, and we cannot imagine why someone would murder, why someone would justify this act of violence. We cannot comprehend.
We come to You in prayer, but our prayer is jumbled. We pray for the families who are grieving. We pray for those who are wounded and recovering. We pray for those adults who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others. We pray for those children that have witnessed this horrific tragedy and will live with this for the rest of their lives.
Our grief is raw. The wound gapes open and we do not know how to stop it. But we call upon You, O Lord, to comfort those who mourn, to bind-up the brokenhearted.
It is Hanukkah, it is Advent, many are now preparing for the rest of Hanukkah and Christmas without their loved one. God, we surround them with our prayers, for we know not what else we can do. We surround them with our love, knowing that You are with them, that You hold them close.
Call us together as a community, and as a nation, loving God, to work to end violence, to build a safer community and safer schools for our children. In this time, help us to come together, for we are stronger together than we are alone, and we know Your comfort and love is shared when we are together.
Keep us close, O God. Help us to turn to each other, to seek the help we need, to build up instead of tearing down. Guide us with wisdom in how we teach our children, and work to end this violence. Loving God, help us to know You are always with us, and You are grieving with us now.
In Your name we pray. Amen.