This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for December 13, 2012, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Each Advent/Christmas, I resolve to practice what I preach and experience peace and joy during this Holy season. However, being resolved during Advent is kind of like New Year's resolutions, -- not easy to accomplish.
Even with my wife and daughter doing my Christmas shopping for me, and my wife doing my chores for me, like putting out the garbage, I still have a sense of waiting for an impending disaster rather than waiting for the joyful celebration of our Lord's birthday. Some of my friends' excitement about the State football playoffs adds to the sense of franticness.
Should the Brahmas lose the State Championship game, will that cast a cloud of Christmas gloom over the community? Well, no, because they're going to win, say my friends!
Singing Joy to the World on "Joy Sunday" at the beginning of this week certainly lifted me up out of my Advent doldrums, at least for a while anyway. A joyful Advent worship service helped all of us go home and face the continued reporting of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
No doubt all Americans, those for gun control and those against gun control, were saddened and shocked by this terrible massacre at Sandy Hook. During this time of football euphoria, it made us all grieve to think that those twenty elementary school kids would never have the fun of playing football in high school, or cheerleading, or marching in the band at halftime, or ever seeing another game of any kind ever again.
These thoughts are coming to my mind as I'm looking at a photo I posted on facebook of my granddaughters sitting on the bleachers in Waco and smiling exuberantly. You can just see the fun and excitement in their faces, as they watch their team win really big. I get choked up realizing those twenty kids from Sand Hook will never have the opportunity to experience that.
So how can a nation rejoice at Christmas when hearts are so heavy over this tragedy, and when our country seems to grow more divided over the issue of gun control, and the "who's to blame" discussions intensify. We are touched by the news that the Sandy Hook principal died trying to subdue the shooter, and we don't know how to react to Rep Louie Gohmert Republican of Texas, saying that the principal should have been armed.
At this stage of learning about the tragedy, I think we are all too stunned to know how to respond. We received a prayer request from a special edition of the LCMS Texas District newsletter for the people of Newtown, CT, and for our Lutheran pastors and congregations who were affected by this terrible happening. One of our pastors, so deeply involved in ministry in the Newtown parish, a rock-solid kind of guy was emotionally devastated by the events touching his people so personally. Some of our pastors led a "wondrous yet simple and comforting" prayer service at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown.
One of our pastors told the people, "Jesus Christ took the worst that death could give Him. And He rose triumphant. We are in Jesus, He is ours and we are His and we have the victory even now – He will see us through." The people were told that God would wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Here's what Pastor Tim Yeadon wrote near the end of his message to Synod pastors: "To me the Triumph in Jesus came with the final singing of 'A Mighty Fortress is Our God,' – truly on earth there is no equal to the evil of Satan. But it hit us anew to sing of the champion who came to fight for us. I don't mind saying to you that I could barely get out the final words, 'And take they our life, goods, fame, CHILD and wife – they yet have nothing won – the kingdom ours remaineth!' I and I believe every one of our pastors and the people of Christ the King will never sing those words ever again without this memory in our hearts."
Somehow hearing these moving messages from my fellow Lutheran pastors on the scene in Connecticut helped me at least to get some things in perspective. Football championships fade in comparison, no Christmas tree up and no presents wrapped are inconsequential in contrast. In the true meaning of the coming of the Christ Child to the stable in Bethlehem we will find peace and joy even in the worst of times.
Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.