Twenty little children have been killed in their classrooms, festooned with holiday decorations and happily cluttered with Christmas crafts. I poke at my smoking fire and think, They were all agog with Christmas jitters, still young enough to believe totally in Santa Claus and tiny reindeer.
Yesterday I texted my friend, Kathie, a pastor in Newtown. “Thinking of you now.” She texted back, “In lockdown with the parents—horrible here. We have been told 20 children dead but parents don’t know who—its just terrible.”
I have been with parents who have lost a child, but not like this. I saw a madhouse of grief and felt a wave of emotion.
This morning all is calm. The lights on the tree have not heard the news from Newtown. They shine on. My fire spurts to life, crackles the kindling and yearns upward. For a moment I give up on Advent. Even a “sincere” or “quiet” preparation for Christmas seems fatuous now.
Then a voice, probably the low intonation of John the Baptist, reminds me that Advent was never about all of that anyway. It was about repentance, remember?
It was about changing our lives, straightening out a whole lot of awful crookedness, bringing down a lot of arrogant mountainness, filling in the valleys where a lot of people are wandering lost. It was about more than personal self-improvement, even “spiritual” improvement. It was about all of us, together. A call to change our communities, our towns and cities so that the poor are not crushed under Armani boots, so that children do not go hungry in a sated society, so that the mentally ill are not dumped on street corners and the homeless are not people with actual jobs, so that violence is not glorified in popular culture and worshiped as the god of our “national security,” since those who live by the Glock will die thereby.
Advent was always about that, John said.
Staring at the fire I think, I don’t need to forget Advent. I must only accept what was always there—inviting me to do the shadow work, to look into my heart and not run from its darkness, to look at the world and not turn away from its suffering just because I can.
I can repent. Turn around.
It was either John’s low voice or an Advent hymn I heard.
Lo, the Lamb so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from heaven.
Pardon. Mercy for people turning in their tears. How’s that for holiday preparation? This time, it seems just right.
Let us haste with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiven.
Yes. That sounds perfect this year.