With the tragic shootings a Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut have come a whole slew of different reactions. Some call for the banning of assault weapons, others wonder whether teachers should carry guns. Some find comfort in the thought of these children being united with Jesus in heaven, others cannot find any comfort at all. I read an article today that said this is not the time for dancing or celebrating anything. I certainly respect anyone who feels their grief too keenly to engage in any celebration at the moment, but I also know there are others who find that even in their sorrow there is cause for celebration…there are reasons to smile and laugh. Life never occurs in a vacuum, or in neat, compartmentalized boxes.
It’s kind of a mess, and things are mixed up together. At every funeral I have ever presided over, there has been laughter through the tears. And I believe that’s the way it is meant to be. A life lived fully is a life where conflicting emotions are experienced together. Where joy and sorrow meet. Where the cradle dwells in the shadow of the cross. Where defeat and victory are experienced in the same event. That’s what Jesus’ story is all about. We have a way of white-washing it, of making it all pretty and nice, but the mess always existed in the story.
Take the shepherds and the angels for example:
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Do you see that little phrase in the center of the passage? “They were terrified.” All heaven is breaking loose, with the best news ever, but the shepherds were terrified.
Because life is kind of messy, and you don’t expect all heaven to break loose in the midst of the night shift. Terror in the midst of joy. That is the mess of life. These things go together, and make the story more beautiful, in the end.
Not to give tomorrow’s passage away, but the shepherds will turn from terror into rejoicing. They will find their joy.
But for me, I’m glad to read that little phrase in the center of this passage. I am glad to know that I’m not the only one who knows what it means to feel more than one emotion at once. I’m glad to get to live this messy, confused, crazy life. And to know that it doesn’t always have to make sense.
Joy and sorrow can coexist within us, because God made us to be emotionally complex beings. I hope you can find some joy, even when sorrow seems to be all around. I hope, like the shepherds, though you may feel terror, you will not dwell there indefinitely. I hope you can hear the good news of great joy that is for all the people.