Last Friday, just as our nation was showing the beginning stages of healing from 9-11 to our nation, we took another hit. A total of 26 children and six adults were massacred in a quiet, suburban, elementary school.
The devastation of this small community has rocked the nation. People from all over the nation are sending comfort, wreaths, Christmas trees, toys, ornaments and coffee to the community of Newton, Connecticut. Why does this massacre hurt so much?
Schools are usually considered safe places. In fact, most emergency shelters are in schools. Before 9-11 we felt the U.S was impenetrable. In the last years, churches, colleges and high schools have seen death and violence—and now, an elementary school. The outpouring of love and support to this devastated community shows that we all share in the pain, and we can all share in the recovery.
The burning question this week for me is how will this impact our Christmas services?
When you read the Christmas story to a passel of kids at the Christmas Eve candlelight, how can you help their parents celebrate the joy of the season while remembering that others are in pain?
2 Chronicles 20 shows us a great picture of how a nation can turn pain and fear into God’s victory. The nation of Israel was under attack. Forces much larger than they were gathering to terrorize and destroy them. Jehoshaphat stood as a leader and helped the nation win under pressure. Let’s look at what he did:
1. Jehoshaphat admitted the pain. He didn’t try to hide the fear or the impact of the pain. Instead he led the people in taking their pain to the One who can make a difference.
2. He led the people in a lament. There are lots of laments in scripture. It is a valid form of prayer. A lament bridges the gap between the reality we experience and what we anticipated from God. A lament also calls on God for Who He is.
Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.
3. Jehoshaphat, along with the whole assembly, waited to hear from God.
4. Together they marched toward the attacking nations, singing praises to God.
How could this apply to next week’s Christmas services? Here are some ideas that might help:
- Have people from your congregation (maybe the kids) decorate a Christmas tree with 26 ornaments. Talk about how the Christmas tree is a symbol of the Trinity, and when things don’t make sense to us, we take them to God so that He can show us His view.
- Acknowledge early in the service the pain that many are feeling this season. Not only has our nation been rocked, but even local families have lost loved ones, jobs or hope for a peaceful tomorrow. Then focus on the Christmas carols that speak hope.
- Tell the Christmas story by starting with what it might have been like to live in a nation that was occupied by Roman forces, with the uncertainty of not being a citizen of the empire. On top of the societal fear, Joseph accepted a wife who was already pregnant, and Mary was young, alone, and pregnant. The Christmas narrative shows us that God shows up in the midst of real pain and fear.
- Take this opportunity to buy coats and toys for kids in your community who have never known security.
Most of all, we need to take time to praise God. He is the only one who can heal our hearts and give us stability in a time when each day brings new stories of disaster.
Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor with a Masters of Theology from Fuller Seminary. She is a ministry and life development coach, and can be found online at www.deepimprints.com.