Unsettling Advent 2022, Day 18 - Word&Way

Unsettling Advent 2022, Day 18

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16)

Ten years ago today — Dec. 14, 2012 — an armed man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and opened fire. He killed six teachers and staff members, and he killed 20 first-graders. Nearly two of the children’s lifetimes have passed since then while their families have experienced eternities of grief.

This massacre at Christmastime evokes memories of part of the biblical story we tend to leave out of our nativities and pageants. It’s more pleasant during this joyous season to focus on the funny live camel or the cute kids forgetting their lines while dressed in bathrobes. The killing of young children doesn’t fit our Norman Rockwell vision of Christmas.

But we must not look past it. Just like we must not allow the sparkling of lights on our trees and the glow of Amazon on our screens to keep us from remembering the deadliest primary school shooting and the fourth-deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. since 1949 (though at the time it was the second deadliest).

Given the size of the little town of Bethlehem back then, scholars estimate the number of infant and toddler boys killed by Herod’s edict would have probably numbered at most about 20. It was a slaughter on the scale of Sandy Hook.

We had our own massacre of the innocents 10 years ago. And then we simply moved on.

A bus traveling from Newtown, Connecticut, to Monroe on Jan. 3, 2013, stops near 26 angel signs posted along the roadside on the first day of classes for Sandy Hook Elementary School students since the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

Our government didn’t order this mass killing like Herod did, but our national leaders still have blood on their hands. Federal legislation in response to Sandy Hook was defeated. And while a few states passed stricter gun laws in the months after Sandy Hook, even more voted to relax gun restrictions. Lawmakers looked at the deaths of 20 first-graders and shrugged. They accepted such a massacre as just collateral damage, as an acceptable sacrifice on the altar of all they hold dear.

With our congressional Herods more concerned with their own power than the lives of young children, we continue to add voices to those in Ramah and Newtown weeping for their children. Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas; and Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida. And other places like a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada; nightclubs in Orlando, Florida, and Colorado Springs, Colorado; a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas; and Walmarts in El Paso, Texas, and Chesapeake, Virginia.

We must not allow ourselves to be pacified by meaningless political rhetoric. May we add our voices to Rachel’s, weeping for our children and refusing to be comforted.

Brian Kaylor is president & editor-in-chief of Word&Way.