As the nation moves past the sheer shock of the Newtown, CT massacre, we begin to look for answers to assuage the grief and pain that we all feel. Understandably, the question "Where was God in all of this?" solidifies in the deepest part of our hearts. If there is a God, then certainly God is sovereign. We realize that God could have stopped this brutality if he wished. Which, once again and even to a sharper point, begs the question of God's seeming absence and silence.
Does God care? Is he distant? Is he powerless? All of these questions and the pain in our hearts are answered by Christmas. Yes, Christmas. It is at Christmas that we celebrate the fact that God loves us so much that he became one of us. The prophets called him Emmanuel, which literally means 'God is with us.' God care for humanity is so vast, so limitless that he "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness (Phil 2:7)." God entered human history, not as a ruler, but as a baby quietly laying in a cave in Bethlehem. He didn't come with an army. He wasn't born into wealth or privilege. He came naked, vulnerable, and seemingly powerless being born in the humble surroundings of a cave.
The Byzantine Icon of the Nativity of the Lord shows the powerlessness of the child Jesus and anticipates the manifestation of his divine power. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger, in the cave where he was born. The icon is not only expressing Jesus' birth but is immediately pointing to his death and resurrection. The swaddling clothes are also his burial shroud; the manger his altar of sacrifice; and the cave is the empty tomb from which Christ rose from the dead.
When God seems distant and indifferent, we must remember that he, out of his infinite love, became one of us.
Even more astonishing is that this God who has assumed a human nature dies in this human nature the most horrible death at the hands of the people he created in order to recreate them in his love. God the Father lost his innocent Son in a tragic murder. He lost his Son, so full of life as to be life, to the hands of sinful people who preferred to release a murderous revolutionary than release the one who came to release them from the slavery to sin. God the Father knows what it is like. The Son of God knows what it is like. He weeps for the loss of every life. He weeps for the pain and loss of the parents and the community. He weeps for humanity that is hell bent on selfishly destroying innocent life. The Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, point out to us that this world will never be heaven. Heaven is not here. Heaven is the place of an infinite act of seeing and loving God as he shares himself with us without measure. In heaven, there are no tears, no sorrow, and no death. It is there that God gives himself to us in perfect silence. We must remember this, believe this, and live this.
It is the suffering, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ that show his true power and love. He has destroyed death by his death. He has overcome the grave by the power of his resurrection. By his love, God desires to give us what will truly make us happy and fulfill us, that is, himself. Only in the permanent, eternal relationship of love with God that Jesus Christ revealed and made possible will we ever be at home, be at peace, be at rest.
It may seem that we are left with a dissatisfying answer to the question of "Why?" Evil is absurd. It makes no sense whatsoever. That God allows us to abuse our freedom to make horrendous decisions that tragically impact others is, in fact, a necessary possibility that comes from the nature of love. For love, to be true love, requires freedom. Love that is coerced is not love but slavery. Love, by its very nature, necessitates that we have the ability to choose not to love. Thus, love becomes an act of our freedom where we take the good of the other person as our own. Jesus Christ, the Son of God walking among us in human form, experienced to the fullest the consequences of freedom abused. However, he transformed the evil done to him through freedom - the freedom to suffer for another out of love. We have witnessed countless acts of love in response to the evil done at Newtown.
The question of God's silence and apparent indifference is answered by Christmas. Christmas gives us hope because the one who is sovereign became one of us in order to unite us to him. His silence invites us to trust. His silence invites us to enter into the silence of our hearts so as to find him. When we find him in our hearts we become aware of the invitation to bring him to the world just as the Virgin Mary did in the cave so long ago. Christmas is the first instance of the guarantee that God will transform all our sadness into joy, all our anxiety into peace, and all our fear into rest if we respond to his love with love.
Spero columnist Deacon Michael Lee serves in the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma OH.