Some of us grew up lighting a rose or pink colored candle on the Advent wreath on the Third Sunday of Advent. This tradition is a left over from the days of the early church when the season of Advent was somewhat similar to Lent and was seen as a time of penance and preparation. This Sunday became known as Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday since the end of fasting and the spiritual preparations were almost completed and the Christian community was now ready for the celebration of Christmas. Today, our rejoicing can often be muted as we are distracted by the stresses and demands of the month. And this year, our joy is also dimmed by the fact that it is the day after the first anniversary of the shootings in our neighboring Newtown, Ct. On December 14, 2012, all of us were deeply affected by this horrific tragedy that took the lives of 28 people as a result of gun violence and mental instability. This event “exiled” us to a place where unexpected violence erupted in a sacred space where children are supposed to be sheltered and nurtured. We honor this anniversary so that we might work towards a needed change.
As a people of faith we struggle as to how to respond to such unnecessary horror. Like the ancient Israelites who were exiled to Babylon after the destruction of their beloved city of Jerusalem in 586 BC, we are called to reclaim our place of peace and safety for our youth and for all people. While the Israelites lived in the alien land of Babylon they yearned to go back home. Psalm 137:1-6 illustrates their struggles as an exiled people and their deep desire to never forget the holy city of Jerusalem the place where they worshipped their God:
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept
when we remembered you, O Zion.
As for our harps, we hung them up
on the trees in the midst of that land.
For those who led us away captive asked us
for a song,
And our oppressors called for mirth:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
upon an alien soil?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
This weekend we are asked to take a moment or two and remember this day so that we might again some day return “home” – a place that does not hold such violence and despair. The people of Newtown have asked that we remember this first anniversary by performing a simple act of kindness. These simple acts can help to transform the world in ways we might not ever fully understand. They are certainly a force for good and can help make the path towards “home”.
We also must continue to pray for the people of Newtown and for those who are victims of the gun violence that is so prevalent in our nation. Here are some disturbing facts and figures about gun violence in our nation (Sources: Children’s Defense Fund, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence):
-About 30,000 people are killed by a gun each year in the United States: the equivalent of 85 deaths each day or three each hour.
-Homicide rates for the United States are 6.9 times higher than those for the next 22 other populous, high-income countries combined.
-More than half of gun deaths in America are suicides.
-Three times more children and teens have been lost to gunfire than military lost in Vietnam.
-87 percent of children and teens under 15 years old who have been killed by guns live in the United States.
Some day I hope that we can all return from our “exile” and live in a place of peace, safety and hope. This is the “home” that Christ meant for us when he was born so long ago.