Christmas, the Cross, and Sandy Hook
The tragedy that occurred on Friday the 14th at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT, has left many families grieving this Christmas. Though the event would create incredible heartache at any time, its proximity to Christmas must only heighten the loss for the loved ones left behind.
Yet, the true significance of Christmas could provide comfort for those sorrowing and perspective for those questioning. Though the biblical teaching of Christ’s incarnation points to several truths, I’ve been meditating on three in particular that can inform our view of the tragedy last Friday.
The Truths of Christmas
The first truth that Christmas magnifies is God’s sovereign control over the universe. Christ’s coming was not a spur of the moment decision or a reaction to anything people did—it was determined before God ever created the world (Eph 1:4). God’s sovereignty was on display in the circumstances of Christ’s birth. Christ was born at exactly the time that God determined (Gal 4:4). He was born to the exact people God intended (2 Sam 7:12-16; Matt 1:1-16; Lk 3:23-38). And he was born in the exact place that God predicted (Micah 5:2).
That final point provides a further look at God’s sovereign power. Rather than choosing individuals who lived in Bethlehem, God chose to have Jesus’ parents live in Nazareth. To get them to Bethlehem, God moved a world ruler to call for a census (Lk 2:1). That’s sovereign control!
The second truth is God’s inscrutable wisdom. Christmas is about the all-powerful God of the universe humbling Himself to become a lowly infant. The One who fills heaven and earth had to be carried. The One who provides food for everyone had to be fed. The One who formed all things by His word could form no words.
There is a reason we speak of the mystery of the incarnation—it is something we cannot fathom. We surely would choose a different method for carrying out God’s purposes, and we would be wrong for so doing. Though we would have neither planned nor anticipated God’s means of salvation, we can stand in awe of God for His wisdom for doing what is right.
The final truth is God’s loving goodness. Jesus became fully human in order to redeem humans. He suffered all the weaknesses and frailties of humanity not to be served but to serve (Mk 10:45). God loved the world—the mass of humanity in rebellion against him—so He sent His Son (Jn 3:16). Christmas declares God’s loving goodness.
It is vital to connect Christmas with the Cross. Jesus did not come into the world so that we could give gifts to each other. He came into the world to save sinners (Gal 4:4-5; 1 Tim 1:15). His birth as a human enabled his death as a human to redeem humans (Heb 2:16-17).
In the cross, we see the same three truths blazing forth. God’s sovereign control is crystal clear. Though wicked men killed an innocent man, they were doing exactly what God had determined would happen (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).
God’s inscrutable wisdom is also evident. Jesus’ death appeared to all his disciples as a tragic end. The rulers of the synagogue saw it as their triumph. Though both His friends and His enemies considered the cross as the sign of Jesus’ defeat, it was actually the time of His victory. In the cross, Jesus accomplished what He had come to do (Jn 19:30).
And God’s loving goodness is displayed nowhere more clearly than at the cross. There, Jesus bore the just wrath of the Father against our sin. He suffered in our place—the guiltless for the guilty—so that we might have eternal joy in God. He endured unspeakable pain so that we could enjoy unspeakable pleasure.
How do these truths bear on the tragedy at Sandy Hook? First, we must submit to God’s sovereign control. These horrific events were not ultimately chaotic or random. The shooter was not the one in control—God was. Nothing happens in this world apart from His decree.
Second, we must rest in God’s inscrutable wisdom. It may be disconcerting at first to think that God was in control last Friday, since we admittedly wonder why God would allow such evil. Yet there are many aspects of God’s plan that we cannot fathom (e.g., How could God become man? Why would Jesus suffer for us?). We are not given the task of determining God’s purposes in His working. We are given the task of trusting that He is working out His eternal plan.
Third, we must rejoice at God’s loving goodness. Why would we trust that God is sovereignly working out His eternal plan in accordance with His infinite wisdom? Why would we believe He has a good purpose, even in tragedies like Sandy Hook? Because God has already demonstrated His ultimate commitment to the good of His people by carrying out the greatest act of love (Jn 15:13).
If God used the only death of a truly innocent one to provide redemption for His enemies, then we can trust that He is using every tragedy for ultimate good. He is not a God who looks impassively at the sufferings of humanity, but is a God who shared in humanity’s suffering in order to put an end to all suffering. The truths of Christmas, demonstrated even more clearly in the cross, provide comfort and hope for all who put their trust in Christ—even in the midst of tragedy.
One other thing, an important one I think, about the truths of Christmas, is that Christ was born exactly as God ‘promised’ (Gen. 3:15). It was to Eve that a promise of a future Seed would come to crush the Serprent’s head. Right there at the beginning, in the midst of the terrible consequences of sin, was a promise, an answer and solution to the great tragedy of the human race. God didn’t leave Adam and Eve in a desolate and dark condition as a result of their sin, but offered hope; the hope of a Seed that would undo what their disobedience had wrought.