Something unexpected happened on Tuesday. A friend of mine in Oregon tweeted at about 6:30 in the evening that someone had unloaded an entire gun clip in the mall where he works. He asked everyone following him on Twitter to pray. Since he is my brother’s roommate, I shot my brother a text message, warning him to stay away from the mall and informing him of his roommate’s situation. Needless to say, I was more than a little surprised when my brother replied that he had been in the mall moments before as well and had run outside with the crowd when he heard the gunshots. The shooting has since become a national story, with two dead and one more wounded. After the initial hype had worn off and the names of the gunman and victims surfaced, I became more and more grateful for the fact that my brother and his roommate left that mall alive and well. As my Mom said, this could have been the saddest Christmas ever.
Even though I am profoundly grateful that my brother is alright, Christmas has always been a bittersweet season for me anyway. As a kid, I would sit in the church pew on Christmas Eve, watching the story of God becoming flesh re-enacted through Haitian eyes. Some elements of the play were hilarious (Mary’s cries as her time to bear the child drew near always elicited uproarious laughter from the crowd) — others, like King Herod and his “bodyguards” usually wearing sunglasses and carrying toy machine guns, were funny but sadly reflective of the culture of political violence that pervaded in Haiti.
Every year, Christmas reminds me of the hope that invaded the world with Christ — the hope that God is not indifferent to our alienation, sin, suffering, and pain, but has entered the story to take it upon himself in the most personal way. Every year, however, Christmas also serves as a reminder of how much of the world is still broken by sin and groans for redemption. Even as one whose life has been changed profoundly by Christ, I still feel the sting of sin in my own soul, feel the toxic effects of the poison infecting me, creating pride, lust, denial, and self-will within my heart. At times, this creates despair in me. How can I change the world? I think. I cannot even change myself.
The community group I lead has been working its way through the Gospel of Mark over the course of the fall. This week, we looked at the story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I pointed out that the disciples, who were screaming at Jesus to wake up during the storm, asking him whether he even cared about them, were not novices on the water. Many of them were fisherman by trade. They knew all about being on the water during a storm. They had plenty of tricks up their sleeves, all of which they had apparently exhausted by the time they came to Jesus. “Jesus, wake up quickly,” they screamed, “or we will perish!” It seems it is only when we come to the end of our rope, I concluded, that we finally reach the place where God can be our rescuer.
As I finished speaking, one of my roommates, who has been going through hell on earth this fall with an addiction and the denial that comes with it, lowered his head and asked the rest of the group for prayer. We gathered around where he sat and laying hands on him, asked the Lord to meet him in his storm. As the meeting ended, I noticed that his countenance had softened and that he was able to laugh again.
In a world of mall shootings and addictions, here are three things I have learned about life: Your world will never change until you change. You will never change until your heart changes. Your heart will never change until you admit you are not wiser than God. To a world infected with as many variations on sin as there are people, God gave a baby. “If you will take this child in,” God seems to have told us, “your sin-sick soul will find healing. If you listen to him, love him, and follow him, he will help you find the way home.”