Yesterday was the third Sunday of Advent, a day when we celebrate the joy of the coming of Christ. It is the Sunday of the pink candle.
Yet, it was heavy on my heart that I should say something about the terrible, horrible, incomprehensible massacre that took place to 1st grade children and school workers in Newtown, Connecticut. I shared with them that I would not take away sermon time, the sermon was important too, but that I wanted to address the subject because our worship must flow and connect to our everyday life, and we’d all seen the images and heard of the account. We were all thinking theological thoughts too: Theodicy, eternity, innocence. I told them that on Friday I didn’t hear about it early because I generally unplug from media on Friday but I finally did hear about it and turned on the television. But I couldn’t watch for long. I couldn’t think about it. My mind didn’t want to see.
Then I shared these three thoughts with our congregation, through the lens of how we talk to our children about it. I did this because I believe these types of events impact children more than we think, but I also did it because as a pastor I realized that the adults needed to hear these things too, but if I couch it as ‘advice to children’ then they will hear me as a partner in the endeavor rather than thinking I was telling them what to do or think.
1. Tell your children the truth. Do not give them all the details like CNN would, but tell them the truth. Do not lie about it if they ask, and they like will ask. If we lie about or brush these things off, we lose credibility to speak to the really important and serious issues in our children’s lives.
2. Tell your children they are safe. The person who did this will never hurt anyone else. Your principals, your teachers, the teachers at church and the preschool workers and the deacons and most importantly, your parents are making certain you are safe. You do not have to be afraid.
3. God did not do this. Well meaning people often say, “Well, God has a reason for it,” but that is theologically untenable and emotionally destructive. God had nothing to do with this terrible tragedy. What we see here is freedom of choice in a fallen world that does have evil people in it. God didn’t do this, but he will help us bring healing and purpose for our future out of it.
Those are the things I told our church. Mostly, maybe, I was talking to myself. Later when we prayed, we made certain to pray about it. That helped the most.