In 2012 when I, together with a few seminarians, were on our way to Bridgeport, Connecticut, we stopped in Newtown to say a prayer just two days after the awful Sandyhook shooting. Living in Boston at the time, a few days after the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, we did a prayer service in the streets of Boston. And on December 2, 2021 I got in my car, pulled out of my driveway and drove just 15 minutes to say a prayer at Oxford High School, where two days prior, a senseless act of violence took four lives and left many in pain and sorrow. All these communities were and still are mourning the loss of life to tragic evil.
Our parents and kids at St. George expressed their hurt too, so we opened our doors for all and did a special service. After the incident, my elementary school son had days off school and area schools have found themselves on lockdown several times. I still get emails from the superintendent of the district on possible threats. God bless the administrators, teachers and students that are working and learning in these conditions. Everyone is still on edge. Everyone is hurting. It’s as if it’s not enough that these kids have had a really difficult last years with school COVID shut-downs and restrictions. It’s compounding.
Meanwhile it’s “the most wonderful time of the year." It’s Christmas season. It is this time of year when we’re supposed to feel joy and excitement, but those who have been through tragedy and trauma may find this time of year exceedingly difficult. Today marks one year from that horrific event in Oxford; one year without those four beautiful kids. So how do we celebrate at this time of year when we're in pain?
Years ago after a friend of mine experienced tragedy, I asked a Professor at seminary, what do I tell him? Dr. Katos reminded me that, “Joy and sorrow can co-exist, but joy and despair cannot.” I found this extremely profound. And at this time of year, when we’re celebrating The Savior’s birth, celebrating God loving us so much that He became man to suffer with us and save us from eternal death through His resurrection, I feel joy creeping in. Is that ok?
We all need to be reminded, because sad things happen in our lives: do not shun joy, even when you’re sad. Don’t feel guilty about laughing and smiling in the midst of hurting. It’s ok to have both. When we shun joy because we think it’s not supposed to be there, we close our hearts to love and open it to despair. Don’t go down that road. Despair is lonesome and isolating.
This goes for all of life’s tragedies in a fallen world. And that joy comes from the hope of the resurrection of all because of Christ.
When a light goes out on a strand of Christmas lights, it often knocks out the whole strand. I used to get so frustrated that I would toss them in the trash together. For some reason last year as I pulled them out, my son and I decided to go through each one to light up the whole strand again. The fixture lights the bulb and we just needed to re-light the fixture with a new bulb. I've decided to do that again this year.
Christmas lights exist as a reminder that Christ is the light of the world. A light that shines in the darkness. In this dark world, when our lights go out, it impacts the whole strand, but when we are relit or we help others light up, we all light up.
If you’re struggling at this time of year, don’t shun or push out the light. Be sad, but allow joy to enter your heart and be a joy unto others. Shine those lights, especially at this time of year. Could you imagine how grim this time of year would be without this joy?
On this day in particular, I pray that the Oxford Community, together with the entire area, and extended world, can still find joy in the hope of Christ’s light shining through a dark world for the sake of the world and that hope in the resurrection of all that is to come.