Evil Exists; God's Goodness Is Greater
I settle into the folding chair in the sanctuary where the children and their families our church has sponsored for Christmas assemble for the Annual Christmas Program that our Local Outreach hosts each year.
In November the congregation selects cards with children's first names and an item from their "Wish List," and then the donors return the card with the requested gift. At this special program, presented bilingually in English and in Spanish, we sing songs, Pastor Cuentas and Pastor Ely present our message, and a group of children re-enacts the Christmas story with a live Nativity scene. Afterwards everyone breaks for refreshments to enjoy fellowship before all the brightly wrapped gifts are distributed. Last year was my first year to attend the event, and of all the joy I'd received from my involvement with the Local Outreach Council, this project by far overwhelmed me the most.
As a result, I couldn't wait for today, Saturday, December fifteenth to arrive. But try as I might to focus on the celebration going on around me, the television newscaster's voice from the day before still shakes my thoughts. A lone gunman entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School this morning.
While I am present in body, my mind and spirit are far away. They are hovering above me as spectators only and will not allow themselves the luxury of joy. They insist on rewinding a loop that depicts the images that unfolded yesterday, December fourteenth. Little girls in the row in back of me wiggle and tussle, their energetic feet kicking the bottom of my chair as their delicate hands clap in rhythm to "Oh, Happy Day!"
The music stops and a silence settles over the room. It is time for our scripture. From behind me high-pitched, sweet voices, tinged with the timbre and lilt of early-aged learners, read from the flat screen television positioned at the front of the room:
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
My heart squeezes at the beauty of their words, the message so pure and so good and so far from what is swirling in my head. I feel guilty for my happiness, for being grateful that our community was spared such ugliness. Again the newscaster's voice intrudes and jerks me even farther from this celebration.
Twenty children and six adults have been reported dead.
Tears of sorrow, ones replacing the tears of joy from the prior year, stream down my face… precious children, innocent adults… even as a Christian and using my strong faith, I can't reconcile the collision of this pure evil with pure goodness. How can I accept joy knowing the sadness and despair that lie in another town, a sister community where children and families were also eagerly awaiting Christmas? The angelic voices call to me once more.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
"Where was your God yesterday?" my nonbeliever friends ask me. How can I explain that God never promised a world without trouble? How do I explain that God gave man free will? How do I explain that this is earth, not heaven, and we are simply on a journey in this life? How can I answer their questions when I can't even answer my own? The sing-songy voices continue.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Dear Father God, I am terrified for the beautiful children gathered around me. I want to cling tightly to these little ones with angelic voices and keep them safe. I don't want them to know the horrors of what lies beyond these doors… I want to keep them in your inter sanctum forever safe. It is my own voice I now hear reading from the television screen.
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Will my "afraidness" to keep them sheltered only make them weak? Will my "afraidness" only prevent them from receiving God's generous love, goodness, and overflowing bounty? To experience His goodness, must we suffer the badness that counters it? Is my "afraidness" only saying I don't have faith in God and His perfect plan? A chorus of voices joins around the room – from behind me, beside me, in front of me, and on the stage – and those voices become louder and stronger.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
Yes, evil does exist. It seems to exist everywhere. And it also seems to be growing. But John 16:33 reminds us, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
No, I will not instill fear in these tiny emerging souls. I will encourage them to live their lives boldly and to bathe themselves in pure goodness for God does bestow peace to those who believe. I will spread this message to one and all because it is what I believe and what Christians stand for:
Evil does exist; God's Goodness is greater.