OPINION: Christmas for those who sufferTragedy again mars this Christmas season. On Dec. 14 at a Connecticut elementary school, 26 individuals, mostly children, were murdered in their first-grade classroom. Suffering did not take a vacation during the “season to be jolly.” Of what relevance is the Christmas story in the presence of such evil?
By: Robert Duffett, Guest columnists
Tragedy again mars this Christmas season. On Dec. 14 at a Connecticut elementary school, 26 individuals, mostly children, were murdered in their first-grade classroom. Suffering did not take a vacation during the “season to be jolly.” Of what relevance is the Christmas story in the presence of such evil?
Does it not rub salt in wounds of grief to even associate Christmas with the dead children, teachers and their grieving loved ones?
Is it not impotent in the face of death and tragedy?
Anytime, but particularly during Christmas, the presence of evil, death and suffering calls into question the credibility of both the Christmas story and its hopeful promises.
Additionally, we ask: Is life in America out of control and may personal safety be found anywhere?
Let’s admit, whether we believe or not, the story of Christmas is surprising, unlikely and almost unbelievable.
No novelist has the imagination or creativity to compose such a tale. Consider the essential plot:
• The Savior of the world, Jesus, is born in a barn and rests in a feed trough.
• The details surrounding his birth are scandalous, mysterious and by any account inexplicable.
• A unique star, like a global positioning system, guides the inquisitive astrologers from Iraq to the infant Savior.
• And, His birth is somehow connected to God’s purposes for the universe variously described as “… Good news … great joy … peace on earth … good will to all humanity.”
I wonder if the parents and siblings of the slain Connecticut children are able to embrace this “good news of great joy.”
I ponder if the familiar and positive pronouncements, now so foreign to their present experience, leave them cold and alone? Only the insensitive would shower the grieving with these expectant platitudes.
Yet, the Christmas story itself was born in the midst of violence and mass murder. Herod the Great, King of Judah, so threatened to maintain his present privileges and future position, ordered the death of all children in the region.
This “massacre of the innocents” was consistent with his character. He also had his wife and two sons executed for treason. Other family members, too, were killed at his behest.
Why are there still Herod-like individuals in our country? Perhaps mental illness skews perception. Some seek out and conspire with evil.
As unpleasant as it is, some commit themselves to the dark side of our human nature.
Others try to inflict a double portion of their own internal pain on innocent folks. What is certain is they destroy life, the future, hope, and their destructive acts prompt those grieving to cower in fear.
With violence all around and anxiety rising, is it possible that the Christmas story speaks most profoundly not to holiday revelers and merrymakers but to the ones experiencing violence — then and now?
Could it be that the promises of Christmas reach across to the grieving, broken hearted and ones bereft of hope and in some mystic sense bring comfort, presence and support in unexpected ways?
Those with tear-stained cheeks perhaps hear and experience anew in clearer, stronger, purer and sweeter tones and ways “Immanuel” — God with me and us, in death, terror and grief.
Whether from the calamities at the Aurora Colorado Century 16 movie theatre, the Clackamas Town Center Mall in Portland, Ore., or the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the essence of the Christmas story is this: Herod and his imitators will not prevail, succeed or have the last word.
God is with us, you and our friends who suffer.
Robert G. Duffett is the president of Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell.