When Cities Grieve: Advent Reflection #3

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This week our city was struck by tragedy.  Dozens of lives were lost in a horrific fire at a local artist collective.  I used to hang at spots like that.  My band used to play at them.  Though personally I don’t know anyone that was there that night, I do know numerous people that have lost co-workers, roommates, and friends.  Because of our presence in Oakland as part of a faith community,  there is a sense that we’re feeling the shock, horror, and grief alongside many others in our city.   Additionally, as we begin to respond and support those affected, I’ve become more connected and aware of the depth of loss that these events have caused.

In times like these the most painful questions and realities smash against the status quo like a head on collision between bullet trains.  Everything crashes and flies through the air.  Up is down and down is up.  Nothing seems to make sense.  It’s foggy and bleak.  It’s incredibly painful, yet somehow numbing at the same time.  It feels like a nightmare we’re going to soon wake up from.

Somehow, in the midst of an unspeakable trauma, and as our city grieves the loss of innocent lives, I’ve found some semblance of comfort in the Advent season.  In particular, I noticed something in the story that I hadn’t seen before.  Somehow, even as the dust has yet to settle, and the denial is still thick in my spirit, there is overlap between the bleakness of this week and the scandal of the incarnation.

The book of Matthew tells us about another city struck by tragedy and a massive loss of life.  It’s called the Massacre of the Innocents  and it’s captured in Matthew 2:16.  In this story, a king ordered that all male children under a certain age and in the vicinity of Bethlehem be killed.

Can you imagine the grief of that city as mothers, fathers, and family members dealt with the loss of their children?  This no doubt would have been a group trauma.  The entire community would have been affected.  The pain would have been unthinkable.

It’s in this environment, the tragic loss of mass life, that the Divine chose to enter our stories.

It’s in the midst of immense pain and anguish that a child was born.

It’s in a grieving city that a Savior was known for the first time.

To me there is something to that.

It doesn’t take away the pain, it doesn’t make it easier, and it doesn’t make any of it make sense.  But there is at least some comfort in shared experience and the claim that God is not distant.  Even in the most grief filled times for our cities, God enters and is known.

Below is a prayer that many pray during tragic times like these:

“Lord, we pray for those who have been devastated by recent tragedies. We remember those who have lost their lives so suddenly. We hold in our hearts the families forever changed by grief and loss. Bring them consolation and comfort. Surround them with our prayers for strength. Bless those who have survived and heal their memories of trauma and devastation. May they have the courage to face the days ahead.

Help us to respond with generosity in prayer, in assistance, and in comfort to the best of our abilities. Keep our hearts focused on the needs of all the community. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

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