Monday, December 14th
[Reference: Habakkuk 3:17-18]
December 14 is a date etched in my brain and occupies permanent space in my heart. It was on Friday, December 14, 2012 that a lone gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School just as classes started and killed 20 first-graders and 6 school staff members. On Saturday morning, I tore the sermon I’d written into shreds and began again. It was the 3rd Sunday in Advent – the morning when we would light the Joy candle.
I was feeling anything but joy and began my newly-written sermon from a tear-stained manuscript using an illustration from the children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. A book that tells the story of first grader Alexander and all the things that go wrong with his day – he drops his sweater in the sink, he doesn’t get the window seat in carpool, his teacher hates his drawing, no snack in his lunchbox, and more. This, I said, this is as bad as any first-grader’s day should be.
I didn’t realize that morning that I was also beginning a new phase of my ministry. One of activism on the issue of gun violence. Soon after, together with my life partner, we founded the organization, God Before Guns. In retirement from active pastoral ministry, we continue that work, believing that we are authentically living out God’s call.
But back to Joy Sunday. In 2012 just days after the shooting, the text was from Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.
How could we possibly rejoice?
We did because we remembered that Paul was in prison and facing execution when he wrote this letter of extreme encouragement to the church despite his personal circumstances. In that context, we could light that 3rd candle with the confidence that we were not the first to suffer loss nor were we alone in our collective grief. There was comfort in that, and we were grateful for church tradition and rituals that allowed our tears while also giving us the strength to see beyond them.
For this December 14, 2020 as I remember and grieve senseless and tragic loss of life, I chose words from the Prophet Habakkuk. Before he spoke these words, he engages in a very courageous debate with God. He calls God out on God’s promise of justice vs God’s failure to act. He demands to be heard, and though he’s considered a minor prophet, there’s not another who is more confrontational with God. He laments, why do you make me see this, God?
Did you ever ask a question out loud and as soon as the words have left your lips, you knew the answer? Habakkuk knew why. He didn’t want to see the injustice. He didn’t want to know about the violence around him. None of us want to see or to know. But we have to see. We have to know.
We need to see and to know so we can be angry. Anger might seem counter-intuitive to a season of joy, but it is not. In order for there to be joy in our world, it will take prophetic anger that brings injustice out of the shadows and makes it visible. And so, Habakkuk can rejoice because he trusted that with God’s help, we can do better.
We could write our own verses of lament listing our 2020 troubles. There are many. Just remember to follow your lament with the prophet’s words: yet I will rejoice in the Lord. Because we can rejoice if we stand where God calls us to stand calling for an end to violence and injustice. We can always rejoice because there is nothing more precious to the heart of God than justice and peace for all of God’s people.
Rev. Kristine Eggert
Co-Founder and Director, God Before Guns