The Advent of Almighty God after Newtown, CT
I have been too shocked, upset, and wordless about what happened in Newton, CT, to offer any comments until now. In fact, I’ve avoided reading about it and talking about it as much as I could these last few days, at least until I felt some sense of balance in the tragedy’s wake. Some balance. This morning’s New York Times cover with the stark and simple list of the victims of the shooting, listed by name and age for the children, name and staff position for the adults, was too overwhelming. To see ages “6” and “7” repeated after so many names is almost too much to bear. But while at Mass this morning, I realized that I needed to say at least something.
The homilist (not me, for a change) kept coming back to the Season of Advent as a time of eager anticipation for what John the Baptist in today’s Gospel announces: the coming of one mightier than us.
Tied together with the scandalous realization that God has, in real time and space, entered our world as a human being, one like us, embodied and incarnate like us, weak like us, this proclamation of our need for someone to come and offer us “the peace the world cannot give” must be mightier than us, too, is striking. Or maybe confusing. Or maybe both.
One problem I have with this claim is the unqualified way that “mightier” is used. I am concerned that we are left to our own, finite, and all-too-human interpretation of what “mightier” means and what that would mean for the one whose arrival we celebrate during this liturgical season. I am concerned that “might” is too often confused for strength and violence. I am concerned that this is the image of God that too many have.
But God didn’t enter our world in a unique way at Christmas as one mightier than us in the way that we would likely surmise. This is the “scandal for Jews” and “nonsense for Greeks” that St. Paul talks about in his letters. God came as the Prince of Peace, not the secretary of defense; the wonder-counselor, not a force of brute strength; a human child, not the military and political leader others were expecting.
This is the Third Sunday of Advent — Gaudete Sunday, which means “Rejoice!” The presider wears the gentle color of rose instead of the penitential color of purple, because this is a time to celebrate what it “already and not-yet” — the in-coming of Christ, of emmanuel, of God-with-us.
Many people are asking themselves this weekend where is emmanuel, where is the God who is with us? Where was God with those innocent children? Where was God with these grieving families? Where is God today? And for what shall we rejoice?
The answer, unsatisfying as it remains, is that God was with those innocent first-graders, their teachers and the other adults who tried to protect them; that God is with the families and with us now. But the God who is mightier than us doesn’t enter our world like a SWAT team or military leader or political official.
God enters our world in the possibilities that are infinitely open to us to be the mirrors of God’s unconditional, eternal love. God enters in the possibility that we reach out and care for one another in times of unspeakable suffering and pain. God enters in the possibility that we will live according to the logic of God and not the logic of human power and greed. God enters in the possibility that we will look to Christ and realize that our calling is not to be the biggest, best, strongest, or most powerful, but to be weak by the world’s standards, to be vulnerable in love and concern, and to exhibit mightiness according to a God who knows what it means to be human and to suffer and to lose.
See, mightier has another meaning. It is about possibility. We use this meaning of the word everyday: “I might do this or that,” to have the possibility of something. This is what it means to talk about a God who is almighty, it is to talk about a loving Creator for whom (literally) nothing is impossible; everything is possible; God is a God of all-possibilities. All-mighty.
I believe that one thing that we have to celebrate this Sunday is a God who is the Prince of Peace and is mightier than us, open to all possibilities and can heal the brokenness and broken-heartedness of those who mourn. I believe that there is still more we can do to live in the logic of Christ as emmanuel, the God of all possibility that we profess to follow. We too have the capability to do something new, to bring goodness to this world, for we were each created imago Dei, in the image and likeness of God — in the mightiness of God, in the all-possible love of God.
I pray for those children and adults who were murdered in the most absurd of circumstances. I pray that we who remain will celebrate Gaudete Sunday and every day with a recommitment to care for the hurting, end free and public access to tools of death and violence, and live out our true call to be mighty like God.