What to say in the face of a tragedy that explodes like some heinous tinsel-wrapped bomb in our lives? When the best we can all hope for is a shared forgiveness of the tear stains on our faces? When in the midst of the Christmas parties that go on in spite of the nightly news’ reminder of unspeakable grief, one mom drops her voice to a whisper to another mom, “How are you doing with all the, did you hear?, the tragedy?” and the moms look in each others eyes and know without saying that the news stole joy, security, oblivion, and carefree from life this week.
When you get the breath knocked out of you and can’t say a thing.
In the midst of the past few days, I’ve been with you on the see-saw of life’s violence. Not just the guns’ violence, but life’s violence. The way life can give us whiplash as we swing from a high of Christmas fever to a low of parental grief. And back and forth again.
How not to look at our sleeping children and want to lay down beside them with superglue love for blankets and never leave?
How not to cry with guilt over wishing their naps were a bit longer when every waking moment is precious?
How not to try on another mom’s sorrow to see how it fits and find it fits too well and too heavy and too there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I?
In the midst of these days of not knowing what to say, words crawled into my lap, curled up and purred a bit, and left a warm impression when they departed a few minutes later. As always, comfort in dark times came from an unexpected ray of light: our family advent lesson. We’ve been following the excellent Truth in the Tinsel Advent Experience for Little Hands from Amanda White the past two years, and this year, in the midst of runaway strands of spaghetti and dripping advent candles, and a TV muted but still flashing scenes of knee-weakening grief, came the devotion for Day 16: Jesus wrapped in a blanket and placed in a manger.
We read the Bible verses and talked about Mary wrapping up her newborn baby in Luke 2. We extended the lesson with the devotional’s “Do More Together” prompt. We turned to the end of Jesus’ life, a mere 15 chapters of a life, and read in Mark 15:46, “And Joseph brought a linen shroud, and taking [Jesus] down [from the cross], wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb.” Then Amanda White, who spoke to me when I didn’t have words myself, asked in the devotional, “Why is something so insignificant like cloth mentioned twice in Jesus’ life? Do you think God wanted to remind us, even when Jesus was born, that the reason He came was to die for us?”
I put the question to Little Friend. With the incomparable honesty of four years old, she answered with a shrug.
Somehow, though, Jesus’ parallel swaddles of birth and death speak so very loudly to me when I had thought I had no words to process this tragedy. Mainly, I think of how God knows a parent’s greatest fear and unbelievable grief. When that baby was born, when he placed His only beloved baby boy in a broken, angry, untrustworthy world’s arms, God, being God, could look down the hallway of time and see the gunshot end to his perfect Son. On some level, when those angels sang their hallelujahs at Jesus’s birth, the Father God must have added a broken-sob hallelujah of his own. He wrapped his son in life and death for our sake from the moment he laid him in the manger.
It takes my breath away, a love and plan and grief like that.
That love and plan and grief doesn’t iron out the wrinkles of grief produced from Sandy Hook’s tragedy. Instead, it sets the wrinkles. It makes them holy, even down to their gut-excavating pain. Wrinkles that remind us that life, in all its inconceivable goodness and badness, must be lived out each tinsel-draped or grief-draped step of the way. Our consolation is that with each step we take, we’re joined by a God who has grief-wrinkles of his own. Who’s been in and through the void before us. Who knows what it means to love a precious child.
One week from today, we’re going to celebrate Jesus’s birth, but how can we think of his birth without now meditating on that linen shroud that covered a broken, dripping, lifeless body? It was a body that was broken so we could make some meaning out of this broken life. A broken body that would fill our mouths and hearts when all other words seem to fail. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).