The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 20, 2012

Weeping endures for the night; joy comes in the morning

By Nerissa Young
For The Register-Herald

— “In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning.”

The Apostle Matthew reports people in Ramah were weeping because a paranoid, insecure ruler ordered the slaughter of all children near the age of 2 or younger. That ruler, Herod, was trying to kill Jesus, the One whose birth is being celebrated this season.

Ramah is not unlike Newtown, Conn., or any other city where mass shootings have occurred or any other community around the world where numerous lives are taken for reasons that make no sense.

National Public Radio reported Monday that 10 girls in Afghanistan were killed by left-behind ordnance as they were gathering firewood.

In countries across the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa, children are regularly slaughtered in civil wars, ethnic cleansing and for the plain simple reason that they are unable to defend themselves.

It’s easy to embrace one stanza of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells” that was turned into a favorite carol:

“And in despair I bowed my head; ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said. ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!’”

Longfellow wrote the poem in 1863, the middle of the Civil War. Children were dying in battle as drummer boys or flag bearers and as cities were besieged and attacked. His own son had joined the Union army against his wishes.

That war was a nation’s loss of innocence. Every generation faces that same loss. Friday’s shootings were Newtown’s loss of innocence.

People often wonder where God is during these times and why He doesn’t stop terrible things from happening. Those who know God know He gives humans free will. That includes the freedom to do good or evil.

God was in that school. He was in the teachers who threw their own bodies over their students’ to absorb the bullets, in a principal who charged the shooter to stop him and, finally, in those silent classrooms to receive the spirits of those children to Himself where they will be safe and loved forever.

God offers something better than a few years of life on this earth that are as a vapor. If that message doesn’t get through, the shooter wins. Evil wins.

Henri J.M. Nouwen was one of the great Christian writers of the 20th century. He lived very humbly, dedicating years of his life as a servant in a community for the mentally ill.

One of his writings from “Sabbatical Journey” included in the “Our Light and Our Salvation” Advent readings seems appropriate here.

“Life with all its turmoil is an opportunity to witness to God’s love! And our witness will be irresistible when we realize that God keeps us completely safe.

“The many events of life so easily pull us in all directions and make us lose our souls. But when we remain anchored in the heart of God, rooted in God’s love, we have nothing to fear, not even death, and everything joyful and everything painful will give us a chance to proclaim the Kingdom of Jesus. We are called to be fearless people in a fearful world.”

Longfellow figured that out by the last stanza of his poem:

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on the earth, good-will to men.”

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail:

© 2012 by Nerissa Young