December 19, 2012 - A parent's worst nightmare. They were just children. An utterly senseless evil act of violence.
If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere... So many feelings and emotions. From shock and disbelief, to horror, despair, and sadness, to outrage, fear and more.
And all of that from a "safe" distance here in Clarkston. Is there any hope for us? As people of faith what can we do and how do we respond, especially this Christmas?
There are certainly no easy answers and we dare not offer trite cliches to those suffering - or to any of us for that matter.
However if the Christmas story is going to mean anything, it has to mean something at a time like this.
And if we are going to be part of what God is doing to save this world that he loves so much (John 3:16), then it is precisely now that we are called to be God's people - to be the light to the world (Matthew 5:14).
Last Friday as I watched the news unfold I shared these words on Facebook: "We pray for all those impacted by the tragic mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, and especially for those families who lost children or other loved ones in this nightmare. With them we mourn, we pray, and with the Psalmist we plead: 'Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord, hear my voice!' (Psalm 130:1)...As family and friends and all in our nation grieve these senseless deaths and injuries, we claim the promise of the Prince of Peace and commit ourselves to never tire in bringing his message of hope, peace, joy and love to a world that seems sometimes so filled with darkness, sin and pain."
Sin and evil are certainly very real. But so is God's love and the resiliency of people.
A sign in Newtown says: "Our hearts are broken - our spirits are strong."
Stories of heroism and courage from children, teachers and staff, and first responders are already being told.
People today, people 2000 years ago at that first Christmas, and people long before that cried out to God: "Out of the depths, we cry to you, O Lord, hear our voice!"
God what will you do to help this broken world and when will you come to make things right?
I believe God's answer arrives as a newborn baby in a cave to a humble couple in a small town. Not a grand entrance, but one we can relate to.
He is Immanuel which means God with us (no matter what!), and his name is Jesus which means God saves (from sin and death and evil!).
Jesus is God's promise that "The light shines in the darkness, and darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:5)
And all of this happens in the real world we live in today. In a part of the Christmas story we seldom focus much on, King Herod was trying to find Jesus not long after his birth so he could kill him (Matthew 2).
He was jealous and didn't want another king on his turf. So he ordered the mass killing of all the young boys in Bethlehem.
Mary and Joseph barely escaped to Egypt with Jesus. The sounds of those tears and the cries of outrage mingle with tears and cries of those in Newtown today - and ours too.
The real context for the Christmas story does not look like the perfect Christmas card, but rather it is precisely in the midst of violence, sin and evil that the Prince of Peace is born.
Last Friday night I had tickets for the new Hobbit movie but I almost didn't go. It just didn't feel right to go and enjoy myself, while others were hurting so.
But knowing that Tolkien's writings deal with the struggle of good against evil, light against darkness, and the significant role in that struggle of simple folk and little people, like hobbits (and like me), I went.
In one of my favorite scenes the good wizard Gandalf was asked why he chose a "halfling," the hobbit Bilbo, to come along on their quest against the forces of darkness. What could he do and what did he have to offer?
Gandalf's response is a word for each us and the difference we can make right where we are - no matter who we are.
He says that "it is the small things, every act of normal folk that keeps the darkness at bay — simple acts of kindness and love."
He continues: "Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage."
As people of faith we hold the "darkness at bay" and give one another courage when we shine the light of God's hope, peace, joy and love right where we are.
That's our calling and I believe that is the gift of Christmas.
The Rev. Jonathan Heierman is pastor of Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church