In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth through His Word. When he had created the heavens and the earth and all the animals that filled the earth and all the birds that filled the sky and all the fish that filled the water, he looked on them and said, “It is good.”
Then God created human beings. In his own image he created them, male and female, in his image. When creation was complete, God saw it and said; “it is very good.”
But man and woman wanted to be more like God. They had been told not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but they used their free will to choose to disobey God. They ate the fruit from the forbidden tree and, in so doing, separated themselves from God. Evil entered the world as a by-product of their bad choices. And through a world that has rebelled against God—a world that has become broken—evil has wreaked its havoc.
Part of the havoc of evil is suffering and death. We live in a world that is confusing and unsure. We cannot always find the answer to our many questions, and oftentimes things just don’t seem to make sense. When something happens like what happened at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday—just eleven days before Christmas—it is almost impossible to make senses out of the world.
Depending on your experiences in life, you may have a wide range of emotional response to the tragedy of 20 children between the ages of 5 and 10 being gunned down in their classrooms along with several adults.
Grief, fear, horror, despair, anger, hatred, numbness, compassion, empathy, anxiety, nightmares, the inability to focus, the inability to sleep, and depression are all among the range of emotions that can bombard us at a time like this.
And, of course, the questions that have been debated for thousands of years push their way into our minds and our conversations. How can such a thing happen, why these people, is there no end to the evil that seems to permeate this world that God has created, where is God in the midst of such an utterly evil event as this?
I know there are those who believe they have the answer to some of those questions. I know I look at these questions with a certain theology and others look at the same question with a different theology, but I have to tell you, these questions have been hotly debated over the centuries because we really do not have the answer to those kinds of questions; at least not the answer on which everyone can agree.
What I do hope that we can agree on is that God derives no pleasure from the massacre of little children; God’s heart is broken when he sees the evil in this world spin out of control.
So what is God’s response to a world so permeated by evil?
What is God’s response when God’s heart is broken?
I will tell you what I believe the Church over the last 2,000 years has given as its answer to God’s response to a broken, fallen, evil world… That response is Christmas.
The Bible tells us that God so loved the world—yes this very same world that rebelled against him and brought evil, suffering, and death upon itself—He so loved this world that he sent his only Son to be a light to the nations so that the world might begin to be transform by God’s love found in Jesus and found in those who follow him as his disciples.
The story of Christmas is the story of God’s loving response to a rebellious and broken world.
Jesus Christ the Son came to show us how much the Father loved us, how much he suffered with us in the pain and despair that comes from evil, how much he longed to gather us together under his wings of love and comfort us. And then he proved that love to us by taking upon himself all of the sin of the world. Being nailed to a cross he died for that sin, He paid the penalty owed by us, so that those who choose to return to God might have eternal life.
And God formed the Church to continue to be the witness of that love in the midst of this world. The Church continues to bear the name of Jesus; the only hope in transforming this world.
The church is only the church when we live our lives as those who follow Jesus; offering love, healing, compassion, and forgiveness in the name of Jesus.
I may not have all the answers to the many questions that come at times like this. But I know that mystrength comes in the knowledge that God has not given up on us and that he still loves us even at our worst and he still calls us to live in that love that came on that first Christmas morning.
As I said before, this is not the sermon I had written for this third Sunday in Advent. The sermon I had written was entitled “Joy to the World”. I was going to talk about how our response to Christmas should be purer joy. And really, I still want to say that even in the midst of this tragedy, we can still have the joy of God in our hearts. You see, biblical joy is not like happiness that depends on what is going on around us. Joy is a deeper more profound experience than simple happiness. I think we confuse the two at times, or we think that happiness and joy are synonyms for the same emotion.
However, a biblical understanding of joy is quite different than the transitory emotion of happiness that comes and goes depending on what is going on around you at any given moment. That is why Paul can talk about the “joy” of his suffering, because he is sure of the victory he possesses in Christ.
“Webster’s 7th New Collegiate Dictionary defines joy as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. This definition is helpful, because it traces joy not just to a present satisfaction with what one possesses, but also to “the prospect of possessing what one desires” (Martin). You see the biblical understanding of joy is abiding because it is not only based on what we already have in Christ, but it is based on our faith that we will receive allthe promises of God including eternal life in his presence.
In the midst of our dealing with the myriad of emotions that bombard us as we listen to the tragic news of Sandy Hook elementary school. Don’t allow the evil of this world to take away the joy that comes from trusting in God through Jesus Christ. God still loves us and he still responds the same way to evil as he has in the past; offering his Son—the babe born in the manger on Christmas morning—to prove that love to us.
And he still calls his disciples to live that love out in this broken world; bearing witness to God’s love even in the midst of evil…or, perhaps, most especially in the midst of evil…
Dr. Robert P. Martin; A Biblical Definition of Joy found on the web.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2012, Christopher L. Miller. Used by permission.