rev-joaquin-willis_web.jpgThe senseless shooting of 20 innocent children and six dedicated adult educators at the Sandy Hooks Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday was, for all, a tragic event and, coming as it did during what should be the joyous season of Christmas, it is sad and disturbing. Many ask, “Why, God?”

They ask themselves, “How can we rejoice this Christmas in the face of such a tragic event?” They empathize with the affected families on how the memories of their fallen loved ones will always come to mind during succeeding Christmas seasons, which, for many, will only mean more tears.

As we grieve, let us remember what the Bible says is appropriate in our time of grief. Matthew 2:10 says, “When the Three Wise Men saw the star, they were overjoyed, and they rejoiced.” The Wise Men asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?”

When King Herod heard that question, he was disturbed and all of Jerusalem with him. Joseph had no idea his son was in trouble, until the Wise Men came looking for him. Until then, “The Baby” had laid in obscurity.

Matthew 2:13 tells us, that after Baby Jesus’ birth and the departure of the Wise Men, “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’”

In Jesus’ birth story, Herod killed all the male children, not only in Bethlehem but also in all the surrounding villages. In Newtown, a sick young man with an apparently unbridled rage and armed with legal weapons, carried out a horrific act. It causes many to ask again, “Why can’t America do as other countries do and just ban all guns from private ownership? Why must ‘the right to bear arms’ be constitutionally protected?”

In Jesus’ day, Matthew Henry says, permitting such killings was no unrighteous thing with God; for every life is forfeited to God’s justice, as soon as it begins. The diseases and deaths of little children are proof, says Henry, of our original sin.

But the murder of children in Jesus’ day, as well as the murder of the 20 children in Newtown is a form of martyrdom. Their deaths are meaningful symbols, eternal reminders of how precious the lives of our children are and how sick society can become in the process of raising them. We must not let these children’s deaths be in vain.

While it seems so unfair of God to allow such tragedies to occur in both instances, if we look closely we will find that in the midst of them we see the love of the entire Newtown community and the compassion of a loving nation. In the midst of our greatest pain and tragedy, God’s love and compassion shine brilliantly.

God, when He so chooses, can make the worst of places and the worst of times serve the best of purposes. Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

The flight to Egypt was a trial of faith for Baby Jesus’ mother Mary and father Joseph. The Newton massacre is a trial of faith for us today. Mary and Joseph’s faith was tried and it was found to be firm. Our faith is being tested by the events of Newtown, Conn., and it will be found to be firm also.

Baby Jesus was the Christmas gift sent to remind us of God’s love for us all. As our children and we parents are in the midst of this trial of faith in public schools and in God, let none of us be found wanting or wondering why. Instead, in the midst of these deaths let us all strive to remember the deaths of the villager’s babies also in Pharoah’s time. Remember, God gave us His only begotten Son. He too was just a baby, yet He was born to die for us. 

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door UCC in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or