Rock Hill pastors: Joy of Advent tempered by sorrow of deaths

adouglas@heraldonline.com December 15, 2012 

“Gaudete” – Latin for rejoice – is celebrated on the third Sunday of Advent in many Christian churches in York County and around the world to express joy for the Messiah’s coming.

That’s a sentiment many might find difficult to share this morning after the violence unleashed Friday at a Connecticut elementary school, where a gunman murdered 20 children and six adults before killing himself.

“It’s pretty clear, that for the people of Newtown and Connecticut, there is no joy on the third Sunday of Advent,” said the Rev. Bob Shrum, pastor of Oakland Baptist Church in Rock Hill.

“What I will do is pray for those people. Pray that we will all love and protect our children as well as we can.”

The Advent season – which encompasses the four Sundays before Christmas – is recognized by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and many Protestant denominations.

An Advent Sunday sermon that would have been about joy and shedding anxiety will now include, Shrum said, a prayer that God will give strength to the people affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

“People of faith learn that we do get the strength to make it through,” he said.

Today’s sermon also might mention that God gives people free will, Shrum said – that God didn’t cause the tragedy in Connecticut to happen.

“When we use our freedom poorly, tragic things do happen,” Shrum said.

Violence and tragedy leave some people “fussing at the devil,” said Pastor C.T. Kirk of Sanctuary of Life Outreach Center in Rock Hill.

But rather than “fussing” about sin and violence, he said, people of faith need to more actively reach out to the community.

At Sanctuary of Life this morning, the names of the 26 Sandy Hook victims will be read, while the 2 p.m. service will include a candlelight vigil for the victims.

During great tragedy and uncertain times, Shrum said, people shouldn’t “blame God for evil things.”

“God’s not a great puppeteer in the sky who pulls all the strings,” he said. “He gives us the strings.”

Many people from Connecticut and York County and around the nation are asking how God could allow such a terrible act like Friday’s mass murder.

It’s a question the Rev. Robert Eble, pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Rock Hill, says he has no answer for.

Eble said someone told him that the Connecticut killer, Adam Lanza, deserves a “special place in hell.”

“While that is certainly not a Christian attitude and is in violation of the commandment about the abuse of God's name,” Eble said, “the man got no argument from me.”

The theme of today’s Advent message, Shrum said, might just have to be that the sorrow felt across America now will fade over time.

He wants people to “remember that joy can come back.”

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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