Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another,
that you may not be judged.
It has sadly become the Primary American Virtue…Complaining…and here I am delivering a sermon on complaining…complaining about complaining…and yet it seems like it’s all people do…and so much of what we complain about, I wonder, if we had proper perspective we would almost cease to complain all together…
And so we arrive at one of the more sobering perspective moments…remembering Sandy Hook…as I was gathering my thoughts this week, I happened to watch a documentary on another one of those more sobering perspective moments.
On April 6, 2018, sixteen people were killed and thirteen injured when a northbound coach bus struck a westbound semi-trailer truck near Armley, Saskatchewan, Canada…that at 60 miles an hour ran a stop sign. Most of the dead and injured were players from the Humboldt Broncos, a junior ice hockey team that plays in the Saskatchewan.
Shortly after the accident, people began leaving their hockey sticks out on their front porches as tributes to the victims. The tribute, known by the social media hashtag #PutYourSticksOut, was started after former Broncos broadcaster Brian Munz received a text message from a friend urging people to leave their hockey sticks out, stating "the boys might need them ... wherever they are"
And that happened only five days after the celebration of Easter…Sandy Hook 11 days before the celebration of Christmas.
And here we are today celebrating the Third Sunday of Advent when we light the Pink candle…the candle representing joy…and one has to wonder…how is it even possible to do so let alone, truly have faith in what that candle is meant to represent.
Images therefore continue to provide us with powerful reminders of the lessons in life we most need to learn… Those Humboldt Hockey Sticks put out that went visibly viral all over the world…so that when people saw those sticks they so more than just wood…they saw young invigorated lives taken from this world way too young…
but not their fierce spirit…those sticks were not meant to further the pain of the tragedy but to help alleviate the pain it caused and inspire others to be ignited by that same fierce spirit of youth and live more inspired, hope filled lives.
Then there is the recently approved plans for the Sandy Hook Memorial. The memorial will be ringed with trees: linden, maple, dogwood and evergreens to represent resilience during the year’s darkest, coldest months…when the shooting occurred and when each year the anniversary falls.
So that when seeing the memorial there is the remembering of those who passed and remain affected…and the challenge, how will you spend the time you have left on this earth? And if there is ever a tree that we must look at and be inspired by, it is the Christmas Tree.
When we see them in their natural element…how beautiful, how majestic, how noble a tree they are.
So sturdy…so enduring…in fact, if God meant for one’s soul to be created as a tree, I believe He would have made it into a Christmas Tree. Despite how ferocious, cold and stormy the winter may be, the Christmas Tree withstands the harshest winters, and not only that, with all the blustering snow…manages to look more magnificent. And then when those decorations and ornaments are placed on that Tree, my goodness that magnified beauty.
One of the more wonderful things to do this time of year is to simply sit in one’s living room…lights off…television off…soft Christmas music playing in the background and just gaze at one’s Christmas tree with all the trimmings…the peace it brings.
Again, we need to see these images…look and listen closely to the messages they want to convey…like those hockey sticks, the Sandy Hook Memorial and yes that Pink Candle…in order to be the people God so desperately desires us to be…
Lest we forget of all the images we are constantly bombarded with, there is no more powerful image, none more beautiful than us. Why…because as Scripture reminds us…we are created in the image and likeness of God.
So that when we see for example that pink candle lit…it is a reminder that more than what it represents we must BE what that candle represents…JOY…but the darkness cannot be scattered unless a light is lit…and the darkness that is in the world, in our homes, in our hearts cannot be scattered unless the light of God’s love and the joy it is meant to convey and impart is ignited in us.
This is why in the Old Testament the prophets were so essential…they were the ones who tried to communicate the word of God to others…why…so that they could better avoid the horrors and pain that sin inflicts on us and the world and instead embrace the love of God and instead be like the God who’s image we are created in.
And so as important as it was then to have Prophets to instruct us…it is every bit as important now to have prophets…especially those who speak to us when tragedy strikes…to be that Pink Candle to see so that our hearts whose flames of hope have perhaps been extinguished because of those tragedies may again be re-ignited.
Because when suffering strikes there is that tendency as is the case with the imprisoned and tortured Saint John the Baptist today to wonder…is Jesus truly the one who is to come…or should we look for another savior…and how truly tragic it is when we do and it is not Jesus Christ.
As the Psalmist pleads today…Lord Save Us…and how complacent have we become in our appreciation for being saved or worse to even acknowledge we have in face been saved…
We can’t appreciate the significance of salvation until we confront the horrors of what we have been saved from and the cost of that salvation by way of an infant not only being born in a cave…but that same baby…that same God…would die a horrific death on the Cross so that all the pains and sufferings, even the most tragic like Sandy Hook and Humboldt are as temporary as that Good Friday Day and the joy they will be transformed into will be as lasting as that Easter Sunday Forever.
If anyone had a right to complain…it was Jesus Christ at that moment our sins not just of socio and psycho paths and terrorists…but when all our sins drove those nails into God’s body…and what was Christ’s response…the furthest thing from a complaint…Father forgive them…for they know not what they do…
And one of those modern day prophets is the Father of Even Thomas whose son lost his life in the Humboldt tragedy:
I will grieve for my son for the rest of my life…and everyone who loves him and misses him. I will grieve for his teammates who survived who for the rest of their lives will be haunted by this tragedy…I will grieve for all the teenagers in all the world, anyone who will not have an Evan Thomas in their lives because if they did…their lives would be a little better…fuller…
When the crash occurred…those who passed, their souls were hurled across the landscapes of the world…it is clear to me with those here present at this service and effected by his passing…if only in a little way…His spirit has made it into your heart…with that little piece of Evan in your heart…please endeavor to be kinder, gentler and more humble…endeavor to make every human being’s life you’ll ever meet a little bit better…because that’s what my son Evan would have done…
And there is the prophetic message not only of why me must light that Pink Candle but why we have this season of preparation to light it in…it’s the year round message of Christmas…and why we need to build these memorials and have our Christmas trees magnificently decorated and lit…The Incarnation is all about how the Spirit of God was hurled from the Heavens into our human condition…
That spirit not only made it into our souls but our bodies as well by way of the Holy Eucharist…and why…if we are to truly image God we must be like God and to be like God is to be filled with God…who is love…who is peace…who is joy…so that we can succeed in being kinder, humbler and gentler…There is no one who can more fill our lives with all that is Good than God…as we pray of the Virgin Mary why not then of ourselves…Hail Full of Grace…Hail full of Christ…especially in the Eucharist.
We too are modern day prophets but what message does how we live convey to the others, to the world…to God? So that when people see us…hear us…will they be left with the impression of one who complains and depresses…or will that impression be left of appreciated kindness, comfort and encouragement…let us then remain ever that pink candle flame that when lit will reignite an inferno of peace, hope, healing and joy in the lives of all who we encounter.