President Obama has acted with great dignity and compassion in the days following the Newtown school massacre in Massachusets. Words are always necessary and seldom adequate, to express those deep longings and searing anguishes that can tear the heart out of us. Amongst the words he used was his rhetorical question about not allowing such tragic occurences to become routine. In addition to words, he came to visit, to offer his presence, to share the tears and the unanswerable questions of parents and colleagues and children.
One of the most underplayed episodes in the Christmas story is the slaughter of the innocents. It rightly finds no place on our Christmas cards, though there are many older carols that describe and try to find a theological sense in a minor political atrocity which in Herod's day would have been 'routine'. Here the King launches a pre-emptive strike against children, and the political expediency of the action justifies the collateral damage, ensuring his power remains unchallenged. Death comes openly and irresistably, and human life laid waste.
The news this morning tells of ten young girls aged 7-11, killed in Nangahar province Afghanistan, because one of them accidentally hit a landmine with an axe while gathering firewood. No one set out to place a landmine amongst the children, but landmines are made to kill and maim, and planting them under sand and soil, they are simply death camouflaged and waiting. That no one planned such a tragic event is not the point. Somebody made that device and made it well - it did its job, with terrible efficiency and guaranteed results. Someone else planted it with lethal intent, and landmines have their own pre-set circuitry, and the lethal intent was realised in its murderous obedience.
All of which leaves me wondering about the President of the United States' heartfelt wish that mass murder of children must not become routine; the truth is, it has, and in more places than America. Weapons and devices manufactured for the explicit purpose of efficient, accurate, quantitative killing of human beings will always find fingers to pull triggers and hands to set detonators. Our own experience in Scotland and the lovely town of Dunblane means we have some understanding of the consequences of inexplicable violence visited on the innocent.
So I sit here wondering what the real human connections are between those weeping women and men in Massachusets, and those weeping women and men in Nangahar. Parents have lost their lovely children; innocent precious young human beings taken from us and from our world. I passionately believe in the precious uniqueness of every child; I cherish the human capacity to love and give our deepest commitments to children; and I utterly hold to a view of each human being as made in the image of God. As a Christian I am left today reflecting about the dangerous world we live in, and the paradox that human beings begin life in a place of great vulnerability, and depend on the love, safekeeping and provision not only of parents, but of their community. And into such vulnerability came the Son of God, a child whose birth triggered the power paranoia of Herod. And into, and out of, that maelstrom of violence a family fled for their lives - and God came close to us, Emmanuel.
So whether a military grade assault rifle and two highly engineered automatic pistols stolen from a mother's cupboard, or a cunningly concealed fully armed landmine detonated by a child gathering wood to keep her family warm, mothers weep. And the prophet's immense sorrow lingers in our hearing, "A voice is heard in Ramah wailing and loud lamentation. Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be consoled."
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.