We can’t get the tragedy of Newtown, CT, out of our minds. It dominates our news coverage, permeates our conversations at work, and in my case, wove its way into a recent Sabbath hike. We refer to the violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School as “unthinkable,” but we can’t stop thinking about it. Nor should we. It raises important questions that deserve our attention.
I won’t attempt to answer all of those questions in this blog. Smarter minds than mine will need to find solutions to the issues that arise in the wake of these repulsive murders.
Like many others, I found my thoughts wandering to the jarring contrast between the terrible violence and the season in which it took place. Christmas is a time for family, for music, for gifts and laughter and food – not for funerals of small children.
But as I prayed through all of this on a hike last Sunday, I realized that the original Christmas, the day which prompted our modern celebration, had much more in common with the violence of Newtown than we like to admit. We have sanitized it in our cards and our carols and our Precious Moments nativity scenes, but Jesus came into a violent world.
His birth prompted a jealous King Herod to try to eliminate the threat to his throne by carpet-bombing the families of Bethlehem, killing all boys up to two years old. Mary was told by Simeon that her son would spark opposition, and that a sword would pierce her own soul also. Jesus would later avoid attempts on His life during His three-year public ministry, until finally keeping His appointment with a whip, a cross, three nails and a crown of thorns. He was born into a violent world, in which He died a violent death.
And none of that surprised Him. Let me say it again – none of that surprised Him! He knew exactly what He was getting into. In fact, He volunteered for the mission. He had decided that the joy of saving us was worth the agony of being murdered by us.
As I hiked a muddy trail in the Newhall Pass, I found myself stunned by that decision. “Lord, You came willingly into this violent world. You came, knowing what was waiting for You. In Your place, I could never have done that. Do you really love us that much?”
The answer to my question didn’t come from a dream like the one that reassured Joseph, or from an angelic visitation like the one that told the shepherds how to find the Savior in the City of David. It came from a simple and oft-quoted teaching of Christ that is preserved for us in John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Yes, He loves us that much. He loves us enough to come willingly into a violent world, to lay down His life for people that He considers His friends. That amazes me, perhaps more this Christmas than any other.