We’ve all been horrified by the shooting in Newtown CT. I’m sure you have all sat following the tragic killings sitting spellbound, perhaps even with tears leaking from your eyes. A killing of so many innocents is something that can’t be understood, let alone explained.
I follow a lot of Christian blogs of people ranging from the famous to the nearly-anonymous and most of them seek to make sense of the tragedy; to help us see God in it; to offer words of comfort. I respect all those who make the effort, particularly those who acknowledge that they themselves barely comprehend such a horrific massacre. They are trying to speak into the grief a nation feels. Even the President was moved to tears as he considered the event.
I read today that Facebook and Twitter ran 1-2 in the method by which people learned of the event. We live in a new era. A few decades ago many folks might have not heard about it until the evening news. More recently they might have heard quicker through cable news or an e-mail. Now our smart phones alert us to a tweet or Facebook message and, in minutes, the word spreads. The grief we feel cascades across the land at warp speed.
The grief is not fake. I’ve seen people here in North Carolina; people who never heard of Newtown and, yes, who have been known to make a sarcastic remark or two about “Yankees” with tears in their eyes. Nobody could remain unmoved by the story. Nobody could doubt how deeply we feel it. But in another sense the grief is virtual. We sit and watch, feeling and commiserating, until it is time to go to work or to the store; time to make dinner or finish our chores of the day. Then we put the grief down and do something else. Maybe we will pick it up later.
Technology makes widespread, nearly global, grief possible. But, though the grief is as true as the tears in our eyes, it is not the same as real grief. We are not the parents whose child will never laugh again. Our virtual grief will fade, eventually being replaced by something else. This is not a sin, this is not even callous. It is just life in our connected world. There are probably times when you wish you could have offered comfort to those who lost loved ones, so real was your sorrow for them. But we are hundreds of miles away and we don’t even know them.
It is approaching Christmas now and we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. The birth assures us that God’s grief over our lostness is not virtual. It is not a spectator grief from far away. God saw our lost and dying world, hopelessly suffering in despair, and declared that His grief would be real and present. What is more, He did not come as a baby to grieve with us but to rescue us. The infant Jesus was the ultimate first-responder. He came to give us comfort and joy. For the Newtown families, and all those who hurt for them, now is the time for comfort. It is so badly needed. But in the incarnation there is more than just comfort. There is the promise that, no matter how deep the sorrow, joy will come for those who cling to Christ.