The stories don’t stop coming. I woke up Saturday morning and tried to digest the news that a gunman had entered a Planned Parenthood clinic and killed three people, including a police officer who also served as an elder in his church. This was after I followed the news Friday of protests in Chicago in response to the delayed release of police department video showing the shooting and killing of Laquan McDonald. Stacked on top of that are the persistent stories and images of Syrian refugees, of tensions between Turkey and Russia, of terrorism in Paris, Beirut and Nigeria.
As I watched reaction to the Planned Parenthood shooting unfold on Twitter, I felt like I was maxed out. It seems like we’ve been trained to have knee-jerk reactions, instantly clamoring to reinforce how this tragedy, this issue serves to show how right our side is. Critics of Planned Parenthood downplayed Robert Lewis Dear’s alleged attack by placing it in the context of the many lives claimed by legal abortion. Advocates of Planned Parenthood rushed to pin the blame for this shooting on the pro-life, investigative videos released earlier this year. Each new case of police brutality, mass shootings or international terrorism spawns the same Twitter battles and the same series of obligatory Facebook posts expressing outrage. Those of every political persuasion do this; I know full well I’m guilty of it.
As we enter into Advent, it’s worth remembering that this is a season of darkness in more ways than one. Seasonally, the daylight decreases to its minimum point, a reminder that spiritually, we are a people who walk in a “land of deep darkness” and desperately need the light. And while we look ahead to Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s first coming, Advent also reminds us that we still await Christ’s return. In the present time, we do not yet see all things made subject to Christ.
This Advent, then, what if we tried a different response to tragedy? What if we went a different route than our reflexive attempts to underscore our rightness and their wrongness? What if, when we hear of these tragedies, our first reaction was to simply stop? Grieve. Lament. Pray. Reflect. And hope against hope.
What if the Christian blogosphere focused first on lament — crying out to God rather than berating our political or theological foes?
There’s good Biblical precedence for this. Job’s friends get a bad rap, but at least they sat in silence with him for seven days before saying a word. What if the Christian Twitterverse took a similar approach? The book of Psalms is filled with laments that cry out to God and question God, but also, in their very form of being addressed to God, express a deep faith and dependency on Him. What if the Christian blogosphere focused first on lament — crying out to God rather than berating our political or theological foes?
Am I saying we give up thoughtful analysis and careful reflection about how our actions impact the world? No. But I wonder if we’re often yelling at each other when we should first be joining in the Spirit’s groaning for all creation. Perhaps it’s fitting that Advent, a season of preparation for the most important birth in history, should be a time where we allow ourselves to sit quietly in the dark, reflecting on the strange mixture of pain and hope in the birth pangs of a world not yet fully redeemed.
This Advent season, I readily admit that I do not have all the answers. But at the births of all of my children, I have seen my wife’s tears of unimaginable pain transform in an instant into tears of unbelievable joy. The pain subsides and hope is fulfilled. So I believe there is no way to really, truly, celebrate the unbelievable joy of Christmas without first sitting, watching, waiting, grieving and even hoping through the pain of Advent. We sit in the dark, waiting for the light.