“I will trust, and will not be afraid,” rings a little hollow in a society where kindergarteners are gunned down with semi-automatic weapons while sitting in their classroom on a Friday morning. We are broken-hearted. How can we not be afraid? How can we not be angry? How can we not be sick inside? How can we not be in murderous fury and anguish and deep, deep, sorrow all at once?
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
How can we find words adequate to describe what is going on inside us after one more in a line of horrific incidents?
In today’s scripture, the prophet’s song begins, “You will say on that day….’God is my salvation’.” And struggling humanity wants to know: just what day will that be? What day is it that I will be able to trust, and not be afraid? On what day, now, can we send our kids or our grandkids or ourselves off to school trusting that we, or they, will come home at the end of the day?
An ancient lament gives the sense of the spasm of grief that convulsed our nation on Friday:
“A voice is heard in Ramah; wailing and loud lamentation,What day is it that the world becomes a safe place? What day is it that we have peace? What day is it that we stop hearing news of school shootings, and mall shootings, and movie shootings, and temple shootings, and college campus shootings? Because I want to live in that day, God.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be consoled, for they are no more.”
Show of hands: Who’s emotionally exhausted by this news? Who’s anxious, worried? Who’s sick at heart? Who’s P.O’d? Who would like to take “that day” right now?
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”Let’s face it: We need God. Let’s stop this pretense that somehow it’s all working out fine as an arms-length relationship. We are here because we need Jesus. We need the Prince of Peace. We need the God whose heart breaks for us, for twenty students and their families, for teachers and staff and those whose sense of safety has been shattered. We need some evidence that this is not all there is.
We know, too well, how to live in a society built on fear. But we were not born for fear. We were not born for such brokenness. We know this week’s act, deep within, for what it is: evil and broken and pain-ridden and sorrowful and desperately needing to be redeemed. And it is the fruit of a society needing to be redeemed. We know – very well - American independence and individualism and we know “I’m gonna make it on my own.” But these are not Gospel values.
Our misguided attempts at saving ourselves have come to nothing. We are sick, and we are heart-sick and we come to the point at which we know, we cannot fix this ourselves. We do not have anything more to offer as a solution to this horror. We cannot fix it with wishful thinking and we cannot fix it with avoidance, and we cannot fix it with mere sentiment, no matter how deeply heart-felt.
We cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long….” And the answer comes: As long as we pretend that the time is appropriate for mourning but not prevention. As long as we value our guns more than our children. As long as we give assault weapons moral and constitutional equivalency to a colonial-era musket. As long as we slash mental health funding and glorify violence and expect these twin evils to have no consequence.
I am praying for a day when children do not need to go to school in fear, when parents do not need to send their children to school in fear. I am praying for a day when I no longer have to write these damned sermons about gun violence. I am praying for a day when we will have the courage to face our American demons around gun rights and find a solution that keeps all of our children safe.
But until that day, to hold all of this, I need Jesus.
Sisters and brothers, God knows that we’re tired. That we’re weary and anxious and heart-sick and soul-sick. So the messengers keep coming, to remind us that salvation does not lie in pretending a naive faith despite the latest horror. God keeps knocking at the door to remind us that we are not alone. What is it the angels say, every time they show up? “Be Not Afraid.” What is it the prophets proclaim, to a sick and weary and disenfranchised people? “Be Not Afraid.” What is it the grown Jesus says when the boat is rocking and the storm threatens? “Be Not Afraid.”
God was not born into the world because it was practically perfect and just needed a little window-dressing. These are the circumstances of the incarnation: Violence. Loss of life. Anguish. Fear. Blood and tears and spit and vomit and the messiness of life in a land occupied by the powers of death. That is where God came, and that is where God comes: to a broken world in desperate need of a Savior.
It take so much energy to live with this level of fear. The land of fear has left us with parched and dry souls. It is impossible to praise from a dusty, scratchy throat; knowing that our cracked lips have forgotten the song of the angels, God offers living water from a deep, inexhaustible well.
We have a sickness for which there is only one cure: the Holy One who offers freedom, hope, love, peace. Some day, we will stop living in the illusion that we can save ourselves, from ourselves, and we will let go of the fear and the agony and the anxiety that goes with it. Some day, we will have the sense to say, “Surely, God is my salvation.” Until then, with Advent anticipation, we wait.
We wait through the world’s brokenness, through violence, and fear. We wait for love to be born. On that day, the deep wisdom of the holy writings will be ours, and the Gospel will be ours, and the Savior will be ours. On that day, the body of Christ will proclaim, together, prophets to the world, “Be Not Afraid.” And great in our midst will be the God who made, and saves, and sustains us.
Christmas comes to us on that day: when we proclaim:
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid.
Let all God’s people say, “Be Not Afraid.”
And let all God’s people say, “Amen.”
Text: Isaiah 12:1-6. Preached at McFarland UCC on December 16, 2012 (Advent 3), in the wake of the shootings at Newtown, Connecticut. Following the sermon, we proclaimed life in the face of death, light amid darkness, and hope amid despair, by singing together, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.