Saturday, December 15, 2012

For December 16th

I have very little to add to the flood of grief, and consoling words - and, too often, arguments about guns - that has washed across social media since news came on Friday of the terrible crime as 27 people, 20 of them six and seven year-old children, were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut. A prayer for these children has been posted by The United Church of Canada. I will be including part of it in our prayers tomorrow, as we let our grief flow that in homes in Newtown, trees are decorated and wreaths are hung, yet the children are gone. We have no answers as to how to bear such imaginable grief.

In tomorrow's message I am looking at how we can possibly mark the Sunday of Joy on this December 16th. Here's a bit of what I'll say:

Our reading about joy from Philippians (4:4-7) was actually written from prison as the followers of Jesus were being persecuted. Our reading about joy from the prophet Zephaniah (3:14-20) is at the end of a book about a terrible event, what the prophet describes as a day of distress and anguish, of ruin and devastation - a day maybe like Friday was for many of us when we heard of the murders of so many children at a school.

The Bible speaks to us with such relevance today because it was written by and for people who experienced acute pain and distress and yet found joy. These long-ago believers were told that they could be glad despite awful circumstances. And we, so in touch with the suffering of our world, are trying to get through the darkness and find joy too. Though we are surrounded by fear and hurt and tragedy, we somehow light that pink candle, for in the Advent season we learn again that we are not alone. God is with us.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul, who wrote this letter from prison, tells the members of the Philippian church that the Lord is near, and then goes on to offer advice that rings just as true today: Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers, along with giving thanks. Don’t be anxious, Paul says. Be patient. Trust God. Wait and watch for the signs that God is with us, sharing our pain. Be with each other. Slow life down and pay attention to the moment. Slow life down and remember who we are and whose we are. Slow life down and savour how precious each moment we have together is.

And, as Paul tells the Philippian believers, the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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