Sing, Little Ones, Sing
Editor's Note: I had a sermon planned for Sunday, but in light of today's events in Newtown, CT, that lesson doesn't seem appropriate anymore. Instead, what follows will be my humble offering as we seek to make sense of what happened. It's lengthy, but I pray that you will read it, reflect on it, and find comfort in our great God. Do me a favor, say a prayer tonight for the victims. Hug your kids a little tighter. And praise God for who he is. - mcw This time of year is always special. As a child, I remember how I longed for Christmas morning and the exciting possibilities it held. The Christmas season is special and magical. If there is one word that sums it up, it is “joy.” The joy of spending time with loved ones, of seeing yet another year draw to a close. The joy of anticipating things that lie ahead in the new year. The joy of baking cookies, eating candy and other delicious foods. The joy of lights and pageants and parades and parties and good tidings all around. The joy of seeing children discover treasures under the Christmas tree.
The joy of this special time of year was shattered, however, when a 20-year-old gunman opened fire in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday. Twenty children are known to be dead, as well as 6 adults, including the school’s principal, it’s counselor, and even the perpetrator’s own mother, a Kindergarten teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In times like these, many questions are asked. How could this happen? Was there a lapse in security? What could have been done to prevent the tragedy? Are more gun-control laws needed? Less? Were there warning signs? And perhaps the most difficult question of them all: Why?
Why were 26 people murdered on Friday in Newtown? Why did 20 children have to be among them? Why must they, more than any others, be appointed to die? Why must they, more than others, be denied another birthday party? A chance to see another grade in school? Why must they be denied the excitement of being a teenager, learning to drive, going on that first date, that first kiss? Why must they be denied the promise and hope of adulthood? Why must they be denied the joy of marriage and birthing children of their own?
Since coming to Bowie, one of the many joys I’ve discovered in this congregation is the time set aside before every Sunday morning service when the children sing. It always makes me think of the songs I learned as a child, songs that I’m ashamed to say I don’t sing that often anymore. One of the songs I learned as a child, and cherish to this day, is “Lord’s Army.” The song challenges each child to be a part of God’s army, though he or she may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery, or fly o’er the enemy.
Scripture indeed paints God as a warrior in many passages. In the Old Testament, God is one who fought for his people, the nation of Israel. Their rallying cry was the promise that God would deliver their enemies into their hand. The battle belongs to the Lord! As we move toward the end of the OT, we often witness God as being at the head of the angelic armies, “the Lord of hosts,” a spiritual force only a select few have ever witnessed, but a formidable one nonetheless. The reason God has such an army is that there is great evil in the universe, evil that must be vanquished. In very somber and respectful tones, Paul reminds us that we do not battle against flesh and blood, physical armies, but evil, spiritual powers in the dark places (Eph 6:12).
On Friday, we witnessed those dark spiritual powers at work. The whole world lies under the power of the evil one, 1 John 5 tells us. The Bible would have us confess the truth that, when Adam Lanza pulled the trigger and ended 26 lives on Friday morning, he did so because there was evil and hatred in his heart. No amount of gun-control laws could have stopped him or others who commit similar crimes. The Bible is replete with examples that the wickedness of the human heart seemingly knows no bounds. The Bible is clear that we live in a fallen world where tragedies like this occur.
But God, why the children? Why must they be casualties in this cosmic war? Why must these little ones be made to suffer? Shouldn’t they have been allowed to only know happiness, joy, peace, toys and candy and staying up past their bedtime? Why, Oh righteous Father, did you appoint their lives to end?
Another song I have loved from my childhood is Jesus Loves Me. Such a simple song with such a powerful message. Jesus does love each and every one of us. It was the Father’s love for us that sent Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. But it was Jesus’ love for us that I believe kept him on that cross in spite of being able to call 10,000 angels. The reason we know Jesus loves us is because the Bible tells us so. “No greater love hath any man than this...”
Jesus especially loves children. He chastised the apostles on one occasion for sending them away as a nuisance. In the universe that God created, children are never a nuisance, and those who truly consider them to be so have not yet fully developed the heart of God. I believe that, when children are the most annoying, God may be striving the most to arrest our attention.
Jesus loves children and claims them as his own because of they are weak and he is strong. A child exemplifies the innocence that should characterize us all. Jesus himself said that we cannot see heaven unless we become like them (Matt 18). He did not simply mean a moral innocence, though that is a part of it. A child is dependent upon everyone for everything. We celebrate a child’s attainment of certain levels of independence (walking, potty-training, tying their shoes, bathing themselves, etc.), but Jesus celebrated a child’s neediness of others. That gives me pause.
The reason Friday’s tragedy stung me so hard is that children were involved. All tragedies that have occurred in my life have grieved me, as I’m sure they did you. I remember my dad picking me up from school in April 1995 and telling me about the tragedy in Oklahoma City. Timothy McVeigh murdered little children. I remember weeping uncontrollably on 9/11. Osama bin Laden and his henchmen murdered little children. Friday’s tragedy, too, left me in tears, but for a greater reason than before. I am four months from my first child being born. I grieved for the 20 murdered children in Newtown as if they were my own. I can’t express how desperately I wished Friday that I had a child of my own to hug tightly. I had to settle for rubbing Sara’s belly with extra tenderness.
Oh merciful Savior, why did those whom you claim to love so much have to die? Why did these little ones, little ones who belong to you, why was there no one strong enough around to save them? Where were you? How are parents expected to believe in your love at Christmas time when toys they purchased go unopened by children who are no longer living? Is this what happens to those who belong to you?
Arguably the most meaningful song I learned as a child was Father Abraham & His Many Sons, a lovable, spiritualized version of the Hokey Pokey. The song teaches that we are all children of Abraham, a truth the Bible affirms in Romans 4. We are children of Abraham by virtue of our faith in God.
As an adult, I’ve come to realize that faith is more than a cerebral acceptance of God’s existence. Believing in God and believing in Santa or the Tooth Fairy are different things. To trust God is to have confidence in him. And on many days in my life, my confidence in God has been severely challenged. Like the day my father died. Like the day my wife and I lost our first child to miscarriage.
Like Friday, when we grieved the innocent loss of children’s lives.
Biblical faith requires us to view all aspects of life with something other than our five senses. There are things we know are true because of sight, taste, touch, smell, and sound. But there are other things we know only by faith (2 Cor 5:7). On Friday, we were challenged to believe that God is just, merciful, loving, sovereign, and patient—all at the same time. How can this be?
If God is just, why does he allow the innocent to perish? Why are children, who have never sinned, allowed to mowed down by a murderer?
If God is merciful, why does he rip children away from their parents, and just 11 days before the joy of Christmas morning?
If God is loving, why does he allow those he arguably loves the most to never see another day of life?
If God is sovereign, if he knew this was to happen, why did he allow? Why did he not send a massive snowstorm that would have canceled school on this day in Newtown, CT? Why did he not cause the murderer to die in a one-car accident? Surely the hatred that already existed in his heart would have justified his divine execution?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but here is what I know for sure with all my heart.
I know that God loves every human being deeply. I know that he loves the families that lost children and loved ones on Friday. I know that he loves them because he sent his Son into this very same world of wickedness and evil.
I know that God’s heart broke with sorrow on Friday the same way it did in Gen 6 when he saw the violence that had consumed his beloved Creation, the same way it did when he witnessed the infanticide at the hand of Pharaoh in Exodus 1, and the same way it did when the same happened at the order of Herod in Matt 2. I know that God weeps because, when Jesus was on earth as God in the flesh, he wept also.
I know that God is merciful because he has sworn that he will not place on us more than he can bear. A lesser God would not be able to stand in the way of events too great for us to bear. When my father died, I believed my grief to be unbearable. But I was wrong. God was right. God often has more faith in us than we have in ourselves. For that reason, he knows that it is always possible for us to survive what comes our way, or he would not allow it to happen in the first place.
Finally, I know one last thing. I know it like I know my own name. I know it like I know everything else I know to be 110% true in life, like I know my wife loves me, like I know that my mom is proud of me, and like I know that Alabama is going to crush Notre Dame in January.
I know that God allows nothing to happen that cannot bring him glory.
In Connecticut this day, the families of 26 dead more their loss. The parents of 20 children will never be able to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives because some of the pieces are missing. A community is stunned. A nation is angry.
But God will gain a lot of glory for himself from the tragedy that happened on Friday.
I know that because there will be some who are brought to faith in Christ out of this tragedy. I once baptized a gentleman a week after his son-in-law was murdered. He saw how the church ministered to his family and he, as he said to me, did what he knew he should have done long before. I am praying this day for the church in the Newtown community. I pray that their ministry to the victims’ families will bear fruit in the kingdom of God. And when just one soul comes to the Lord, there is rejoicing in heaven on a scale unfathomable to us mortals.
I know that God will gain glory for himself because only when we are at our weakest can his power shine through. Only when we are poor in spirit can we become citizens of his Kingdom. Through this tragedy, good will overcome evil in this way: Parents will be affectionate, not annoyed, over their children this weekend. More hugs will be given. More laughter will occur. Precious memories will be created. Adults will focus on what is more important in light of Friday’s tragedy. God uses these events to each us powerful lessons and reveal our remaining defects. God uses tragedy to perfect his people. Suffering makes us better servants of Him.
I know that God will be glorified by this unspeakable tragedy because it has happened before. Even considering Friday’s massacre, there will never be a darker day in human history than the one on which Jesus was murdered. Yet God knew that day would come as well. He planned it. He orchestrated it so that it would end in the salvation of our souls, and salvation always brings him glory.
But finally, I know that the Newtown massacre will bring God glory because there are now, guaranteed, 20 more souls in heaven singing. Yes, they are singing. Listen. Can you hear their chorus? Can you hear their beautiful voices joining the myriad choir of His holy ones? Can you hear them declare the Father to be holy? The Lamb to be worthy? Can you hear them sing?
The goal of all life is to glorify God. I believe that to be true with every fiber of my being. What happened Friday was a tragedy, but it is not the worst tragedy imaginable. For there are now 20 souls safe and secure with Christ. Their lives were cut short, but their souls are now praising God, and so they are now realizing the very thing for which they were created, and we can’t help but rejoice at that. Friday’s events did not expose the impotence of God, but rather displayed the power of God. It requires the eyes of faith to see that, but it is true nonetheless. God is powerful enough to bring blessing out of a curse, and that blessing is that the parents of twenty precious, innocent children, now know their babies are with the Lord forever. “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” – Psalm 30:5
Twenty children are now a permanent part of God’s army, an army declaring the praises of her commander in chief. Twenty children are now safe with Jesus because he loves them so, because He is strong though they are weak. Twenty children are now children of Abraham; their faith has become sight. They are now praising the Lord.
Sing, children, sing. Sing, ye precious little ones. Sing as we weep for your families and envy the glory you now witness. Sing, ye who belong to Jesus Christ. Declare your Maker’s praise.
Father, help us to trust you in this most painful of moments. I beg you, as a child begs his father for the greatest desire of his heart—bless the parents of these slain innocents. Build up a hedge around their heart, beyond which only love and mercy, not doubt and fear, may enter. Bless them this Christmas season. Temper our rage with grief. Temper our hatred with love. May we see solutions for this tragedy, not in politics and posturing, but in the goodness and glory of the Gospel. Help us to understand that Jesus is the only answer to this tragedy. Above all, help us to realize that you know and care. Make yourself known in a mighty way. Rise up, extend your gracious hand, redeem, deliver! Love! In return, may we praise you. May the end of this tragedy be the exaltation of your great name. May we join the chorus of those precious 20 souls. By your grace, may we sing the song of Moses and the Lamb, and dwell with Jesus evermore. And if I may submit one last request, come soon. Don’t wait for December 21. Come sooner. It’s getting dark down here. Send Jesus. We, your people, beg you. Send the Son. In his name.
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