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Emmanuel – Light in our darkness


After hugging and greeting each 8th grade girl, I always begin each Wednesday night “cell group” time with a worship song. (For the record, I loathe the name cell. It’s like we’re in jail. But that’s the label the church has chosen, so there’s not much I can do.)
Last Wednesday, I attempted to hold their attention while I explained that night’s selection. Amid the crackle of Skittles wrappers and giggly comments and peeks at their cell phones, I introduced my favorite Christmas carol.
For thousands of years, the Jews had been waiting for their Messiah. They suffered enormous persecution and hardship, enslaved in a land that was not home, crying out for God to come and rescue them. 
O come, o come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
Who mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears
Rejoice, rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
I explained to them how we, in our present suffering and stress and grief, also wait. We beg God — our Emmanuel, our God with us — to rescue us, to be near us. We wait for His return, just as He promised, to save us from this place that is not our home.
That was Wednesday night. On Friday morning, a darkness so thick, so putrid, descended upon a small school in Connecticut like a tsunami, slamming us to the ground, leaving us gasping for breath.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse
Free thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice, rejoice! 
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

As details trickled in, as stories were reported and corrected, we could not awaken from this unthinkable nightmare. Surely this could not be real. Not here. Not now. 
When I tried to understand these things, it was too hard for me; until I entered the sanctuary of God and discerned the end of the wicked. Psalm 73:16-17
The darkness is suffocating. I hate it. How can a place of such beauty and goodness coexist with such evil? Where is the justice in twenty mommas and daddies who cannot tuck in their babies and kiss them goodnight? Who will never again smell their freshly washed hair or laugh at their toothless grins? Where is the peace for hundreds of babies whose fear keeps them awake at night?
When I tried to understand these things, it was too hard for me…
That night, our family drove into downtown Fort Worth for an event that had been on our calendar for months. We, along with 1800 other volunteers, piled into flatbed trailers loaded with hay and boxes of toys, to scatter small shards of light throughout the inner city neighborhoods. One house, one family at a time, we knocked on the door and began to sing of a newborn baby in the hay, of jingle bells, of angels. We sang until someone opened the door – or until we determined they would not. We asked them if they had children, how many children, what are their ages, boys or girls – then we ran back to the trailer for Legos and superheroes, toy cars and baby dolls. We learned their stories, their needs. We prayed with them. We hugged them and wished them a Merry Christmas. Tiny specks of light illumined the darkness.
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice, rejoice! 
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Today, as I do every Monday morning, I sent my kids off to school with a kiss and a wish for a good day, and I drove across town. I entered the Title I school where I tutor first graders — first graders. As I walked to their classroom, my emotions threatened to overtake me, and I swallowed my sobs. A substitute teacher was there — which was probably a good thing. Had I seen the classroom teacher, who has become my friend, I would not have been able to hold myself together. The sub was a mean, grouchy, old lady. No patience with these sweet babies. No softness. Just a stern, harsh voice and narrow eyes. What’s WRONG with you? I thought. These are our babies! These are six- and seven-year olds! We have to hug them and love them! We have to tell them how wonderful and beautiful and special they are!
So I did. I helped them with their spelling words. (The first word on the list? Hope.) I high-fived them. I hugged them. I gave each of them a tiny chocolate Santa tied to a candy cane with a brightly colored ribbon. Santa looked like he was being held for ransom. “I love you,” I told them before I left. “I am so happy to be your helper. I will see you in January.” The narrow-eyed sub barked, “What do you say to Mrs. Hunt?”
“Thank you,” they chimed, and twenty soft, chubby hands waved good-bye.
Light conquers darkness.
I lay in bed last weekend picturing a first grade classroom — which was my son’s classroom — and the terror that must have happened there. I pictured faces — which belonged to my son and his friends and his teacher — and I could not bear the weight of desperation and grief. 
Oh God! I cannot see. I cannot fathom. I cannot stay in this place. It is too much to bear. Oh come, Emmanuel!
This light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). 
Their terror was momentary. Their glory, their joy is beyond comparison. These babies, these heroes are free. They are whole. They are no longer afraid.
And for those left here, weighted with unanswerable questions and unbearable grief, we have only pieces of light to fight off our despair. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5) The darkness WILL NOT WIN. Light always trumps the darkness. Love always wins. Always. The darkness has not overcome it, DAMMIT! I have to believe that. The evil of this world does not stand a chance against the light of God living in His people and His creation. “I entered the sanctuary of God and discerned the end of the wicked.” Love will win. Evil will not.
On Sunday morning, in my cracked, off-key voice, I made a joyful noise, tears streaming down my cheeks. I sang gloria, oh come let us adore him, we rise up and call you beautiful. And through my tears, I could see twenty little faces and six brave women, gathered around Him, sitting in his lap, singing with me. Gloria. Let us adore him. 
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice, rejoice! 
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Today is not a day for answers, for platitudes, for reasons why. This day is reserved for grief. On this day, we affirm that we belong to each other. On this day, we light a candle and remind ourselves that light shines in the darkness. Emmanuel — God with us in our grief, God with us in our confusion, God with us in our darkness — will come. 

Rejoice.
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5 thoughts on “Emmanuel – Light in our darkness

  1. Thank you. Thank you for your message that brought tears to my eyes once again. I have a first grader too. I cannot bear to think of the sadness that the parents and community of Newtown must feel. Thank you for reminding me again that the darkness WILL NOT WIN.

  2. Thank you so much for this eloquent story. I appreciate the beauty of your words blended with the heartfelt song "O come…Emmanuel".. thank you so much for writing this piece. Laura

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