Culture At Large

Advent All Around: When great tragedy numbs great joy

Rod Hugen

This is the third installment in Advent All Around, a Think Christian series that sees reflections of Advent in the culture at large.

Kate Middleton is pregnant. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting a royal heir and all across the Commonwealth there is a good deal of joy. Speculation runs rampant. Is it a girl or a boy? Twins perhaps? What will it be like for this child to be born into such wealth, power and status? Common people want to know all the wonderful details. The press scrambles to get any news it can about this eventual monarch. There is so much joy and delight that commoners and the privileged alike rejoice.

Then, in Connecticut, the most horrific thing we can imagine unfolds. Little schoolchildren - only a few years away from their own births - are shot and killed by a gunman, who then takes his own life. The number of dead keeps increasing and we hear and see details we never hope to have to try to comprehend. It is unimaginable and any joy we have experienced in the Christmas season is simply gone. It disappears in a moment in the middle of such an appalling tragedy. We are confronted again by fear and dread and such awful, awful pain. Sorrow and sadness rush in and steal away the joy.

Joy is a fragile thing. It seems to gurgle up and break through, shining brightly for its moment in the sun before being squelched by the painful realities of life and death. The darker news of the day rushes in to fill the space. Scriptures remind us to mourn with those who mourn and to rejoice with those who rejoice, but it is difficult to take delight in God’s goodness when all around us there are tears and sadness. All this death overshadows the joy of even a coming child.

Joy is a fragile thing. It seems to gurgle up and break through, shining brightly for its moment in the sun before being squelched by the painful realities of life and death.

In hills surrounding Bethlehem, commoners tend flocks of sheep. Shepherding is not glamorous work. It is probably what Jewish mothers warned their children they might become if they didn’t complete their studies. Still, it was a job and it paid. On the night Jesus was born, some shepherds are doing their job when suddenly their world is turned upside down. In a moment they are confronted by an angel who tells them news of great joy, that a Savior is born to them and that they will find Him in a manger in Bethlehem wrapped in cloths. What an odd way to announce the birth of the King of all the kings and queens who will ever exist, Kate Middleton’s baby’s great-grandmother included. Even Middleton’s royal little one will someday bow his or her knee to this newborn King, Jesus, the Christ. After the angel’s announcement, the shepherds leave their flocks and rush off to Bethlehem to see this child themselves and then spread the joy. They return glorifying and praising God.

No matter where we are in our common activities we can have this uncommon joy. A joy that can hardly help but gurgle up and flow out of us. What great joy that death itself is destroyed by this mighty King! In the light of the horror of children being killed, we are called to remember that Jesus comes and is making and will make all things right. It is hard to imagine in the moment that it is possible for God to fix this horror, but in Jesus He changes hearts and saves lives for all eternity. If He does not save, then all of this suffering is inexplicable. But He does save. Look to Jesus yourself. Submit your ways to Him. Run and spread the good news of who He is and what He has done. Don’t let great tragedy dissuade you from announcing great joy.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Christmas & Easter