“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
Like many, I enjoy the hype of the Christmas season. The lights, music, and parties just do it for me. Last week, the church I was visiting celebrated the first week of Advent- a time of preparation for Christmas that believers have observed for centuries. As much as I love the tradition, I have heard it a thousand times and tuned in and out while Mike, a father of six I’d never met before, expertly held a baby in one arm and a microphone in the other while reading from his notes. … Something about Peace, Joy, Love, Hope.
These words are significant to me, but just familiar enough to assume I could still experience the season without 100% engagement. I had no idea my heart, and everyone else in the room, would need this time to prepare us for far more than December 25th.
Church let out and the workweek started like any other. Mike most likely kissed his wife and the top of six little heads before heading out the following Wednesday. I, too, was working when I received a phone call that the world’s newest mass shooting site was San Bernardino. My heart dropped. My fiancé is a firefighter for the city and had been working on a triage training for the department. I turned on the news, knowing I’d see him but still shocked to actually spot his blue uniform at the scene. I watched and waited for what felt like hours while the news reported they were still looking for shooters and sweeping for bombs designed to kill first responders… I prayed for everyone’s safety, and personally for Scott’s. We’re planning a wedding, a life.. Lord I am NOT prepared for you to take that away.
Finally, a text
“I am ok”
Mike’s wife waited and waited to hear anything from her husband. Their church was praying for his safety and asking the community on Facebook to pray as well. How could she be prepared for the news that came later that night? How could any wife and mother prepare to hear her husband was a victim of an evil and senseless attack?… It’s devastating.
All I can do now is picture this father at church. What was he saying? Why didn’t I pay more attention? Thankfully, Church of the Woods posted a video, which I encourage you to watch here. Mike and his family read Luke 2:6-7. His words draw attention to the preparations God made for Jesus’ birth. When Mary and Joseph could’ve asked, “Why didn’t you line up a better spot for us to have this baby?”Mike offered that it was exactly how God designed it. This seemingly wrong situation was actually an example of Gods, “focus and order.”
Wednesday’s gruesome tragedy and others like it leave many of us with opposite feelings- chaos and a lack of attention from God. Where are you? Why are you letting this happen? We blame each other. We buy more guns. We argue on TV and around our dinner tables. We distrust our neighbors whom we don’t truly know in the first place. We don’t feel safe or provided for and fear grows.
And some of us will go back to church on Sunday for the next week of Advent secretly wondering, What’s the point? Why light candles and sing songs? These words and traditions feel awfully cute and thin in the wake of lives lost. I can’t decide if these words- the verses, prayers, and truths we tell each other this time of year are not enough… or all we have.
Are they missing the point or are they the point?
They can’t be both.
Mike said God gave his son to be, “The Hope of the World.” Jesus is our only Hope or he is not.
Mike said, “Our hearts are meant to be a manger for Jesus.” While this sounds like a greeting card, in reality, it is the opposite. If you know anything about Jesus, you know he will change everything if you truly let him find a home in your life. He will take the things that are natural to you and me- revenge, fear, self-preservation and ask us to follow his example and do the opposite.
To experience peace during war.
To choose joy in the midst of sorrow
To actually love and forgive our enemies. To not give them our hate, even in the face of murder. To build meaningful relationships with people who look, talk, think, and act differently than us. To never see them as anything other than people.
None of this makes sense or feels right in the moment. To actually live out Christmas would be the hardest thing we’ve ever done, and exactly what this world desperately needs from us.
As details come out regarding the two shooters, I keep hearing things like, “Were they extremists?” “When did he become radicalized?” and it bothers me that the terrorists have monopolized and tainted these words. Truthfully, if we lived like Jesus we would be the radical ones. I believe our lives would look extreme. Our message would spread- not with guns, hate, and terror, but with peace, joy, love and hope.
I’ll admit that it feels too hard, especially this week. It’s heartbreaking to think of the victims and their families. We all want justice and change. We all have different ideas of how to get it and play different roles- armed services, parents, cops, students. Regardless, we can truly only control ourselves. I can’t help but be inspired by the image of a dad, nervously corralling five kids on a stage Sunday morning. In the end, he left a powerful final memory for his kids by leading Advent- a meaningful tradition meant to prepare them for far more than a holiday.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Support for Mike’s family here.
Support for victims of San Bernardino here.
image from etsy.com