December 18, 2012

Finding the Meaning of Christmas Amid Unspeakable Grief

by Donald G. Mashburn

Christmas is that time of year when we usually are cheered by the music and sounds of Christmas, such as “Joy to the World,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” The crass commercialism the secular world has forced upon this holy season may sometimes drown out the strains of “Silent Night,” but it can’t make us forget the joys of Christmases past and songs of peace and good will toward men.

We grew up understanding the meaning of Christmas, and with wishing one another a Merry Christmas. This Christmas, however, the wishes for a “Merry Christmas” come more strained and forced than in the past. Our memories of Christmas, and its meaning, have been clouded – perhaps obscured for some – by the agonizing “Whys” and the heart-wrenching sadness each time we’re reminded of that terrible Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Our recollections of Christmas have been jarred loose from their memory places and that space taken over by the images of 20 sweet, beautiful children, ages 6 and 7, and six women that were shot and killed by a crazed 20-year-old gunman who forced his way into the school on December 7.

The recurring “Why?” we hear in our minds brings no answer. We can’t reach into our hearts and get hold of the heavy sadness gripping it, so that we can remove it – and we doubt we would remove it if we could. For, somehow, we seem to be bound in our heart-heaviness and sadness to those grieving souls in Newtown, Connecticut, who are the mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters, and grandparents, and uncles and aunts, and cousins, and friends, and neighbors of the children and adults who died in the senseless rampage.

This Christmas is different from any other. Across the country – indeed, in much of the civilized world where children are loved – the usual joy of Christmas is missing. For our minds and memories have been indelibly etched with the sweet faces of the six and seven year-old students of Sandy Hook Elementary School who died before the guns of the crazed shooter, Adam Lanza, who was 20 when he died by his own hand at the school.

Many talking heads in the media, feeling a need to feed the insatiable monster called the “Twenty-four Hour News Cycle, will deaden our senses with lengthy orations about the Sandy Hook horror. Some may even try to explain it, and some officials and politicians will propose “solutions” that will not be solutions to whatever caused the Sandy Hook tragedy, but will be something that will persuade themselves, or voters, that they are trying to do something.

Still, nothing said, proposed, or done will make this Christmas any less sad, or any less painful, for those who grieve for loved ones snatched away from them in a peaceful classroom. Nothing from school officials or those in government will restore any part of the glow, the smile, or the uninhibited, beautiful, one-of-a-kind joy that each one of those children brought to the small part of the world touched by each of them.

The absence of that beauty and uninhibited joy will be deeply felt in the homes of those who died at Sandy Hook school. Their absence will bring pain that no writer has the words to describe, that no speaker, with all the words at his or her command, can tell about.

It is hoped, however – prayerfully requested and pleaded for, by believing hearts – that the family of all those who died on that frightful Friday, will amid their unspeakable grief find the real meaning of what Christmas is, how it came about, and what it means to them and to the loved ones separated from them.

May they understand that the “Christ” in Christmas is not a mythical figure, or something conjured up by those with commercial or other interests. May they somehow find meaning and solace in knowing that the One responsible for Christmas also suffered and died, but not needlessly, and not without reason.

The Christ of Christmas willingly went to the cross, and there suffered and died so that believing sinners and innocent, beautiful 6-year-olds and 7-year-olds can be with Him for eternity. “For God so loved the world that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

This writer does not know what the policies of the Sandy Hook school say about religion, about God, Jesus Christ, or Christmas. It is hoped that the school’s administrators are among the enlightened educators who can clearly see and understand that believing in a loving and merciful Creator, and acknowledging that Christ “came to save that which was lost,” in no way “establishes” a religion in the sense referred to in the Constitution. If they do take the enlightened position, they perhaps can comfort and encourage those who grieve for loved ones violently snatched from them.

The phrase, “it is hoped,” was used regarding the Sandy Hook administrators because school administrators haven’t always been that tolerant.

In recent memory, an Oklahoma school superintendent ordered the removal of a Nativity scene from an elementary school Christmas play. He said he deleted the Nativity scene on the advice of the school’s attorney. The decision was a “clear form of discrimination,” according to some parents, who noted that the school had made a decision to permit Kwanzaa and Hanukkah displays.

Numerous schools have banned Christian hymns, such as “Silent Night.” Many have banned “Merry Christmas,” and one even removed “Christmas” from its calendar so students would not be exposed to the “Christ” part of “Christmas.”

Not many years ago, Christmas was a special time and had special meaning for all of us. It wasn’t complicated. It was the day on which we celebrated the coming of the Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace, “Immanuel, ... God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

But, now, political correctness taken to an extreme has caused “Happy Holidays” to become the Christmas greeting for some, although the term is bland and empty, and conveys no understanding of the substance of Christmas.

May the families of Sand Hook Elementary School, and all the grieving people of Newtown, realize that Christ is the real substance of Christmas. He, alone, out of all history, is the One who lived a sinless life, was tortured and crucified because He claimed to be the Son of God, then was buried and rose from the grave and appeared to hundreds to prove He was what He claimed to be.

Against the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the worldly trappings of Christmas fade to nothing. Christmas without Christ is empty, with little meaning. In an often unreal world, Christ is our reality. In a world where war is a constant, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. In a hurting Newtown or a hurting Anywhere, He’s our Healer. To the lost, He’s the one and only Savior.

May the people of Newtown, Connecticut, and especially the families and friends of the 20 precious children and 6 adults who died at Sandy Hook school, and, yes, the remaining family of the killer, find the peace that can be found only in the Prince of Peace.

For only in Him can they find the true meaning of Christmas amid the unspeakable grief they are going through here. In the Prince of Peace they can have peace here, and eternal peace when they are reunited with their loved ones with Him in heaven.

For now, may they be blessed by the assurance that there is no place where their grief and sorrow are felt more than in heaven.