I have heard it said this weekend, after the horrible murders in the school in Newtown, Connecticut, that this carnage is the result of God being put somewhere or taken somewhere or banished from somewhere. Who thinks God can be put somewhere or taken away? Seriously? Really? Does anyone think school prayers and nativity scenes in courthouse lawns would have prevented this? I think not. This unspeakable tragedy is beyond our understanding, but it is not a sign of God's absence. I feel the presence of God all around me as I worship with kindred spirits and hold my children close to my heart and ponder the pain of lost loved ones.
Yes, it is true that in my childhood at the beginning of the school day we read the Bible and said the Lord's Prayer. And, yes, we put nativity scenes on the courthouse lawn at Christmas time. By those measures we had god placed just where we thought god wanted to be, I guess, everywhere except in our hearts, it seems.
But, while school children read some Bible verses and chanted or mumbled the words of the prayer, American society did not reflect God's values and priorities, certainly not in my experience. We had plenty of violence in and around the places I spent my childhood, much of it unreported in the popular press or talked about on cable television. We had no cable television and the press in the south shielded its white readers from the news of racial injustices and violence.
But more to the point, who is this god that can so easily be put places or taken places or banished from places? What kind of god is it that can be moved at the whim of lowly humans? It must be a piece of jewelry or a pocket-size totem or lucky rabbit's foot.
That god was certainly not God Almighty, Yahweh, Jehovah, Creator and Sustainer; not the one Isaiah called "Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." No. God Incarnate cannot have been put anywhere by mere humans. God is not to be removed from classrooms or lawns or any other place by puny people. What audacity and hubris to think otherwise! What god can be moved around at will?
Remember, the joyous birth of Jesus was also met with the slaughter of the innocents. Horrific violence accompanied God's arrival, not God's removal. God came to us to be with us, not to be put anyplace, sequestered away either in a ritual or scene, but to live in the hearts of people and to be the example for us all.
My prayer is that no one will feel the absence of God, not now, for God is not absent. God is here with us, with mourning families, distraught children, devoted teachers, and even with any who think God has been removed from the public square. God is with us. Immanuel. God bless us every one.