Two things are true this Tuesday, November 29th, 2022. First, my son, who is a sophomore at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, was sent home from school due to a mass shooting threat. Secondly, this is the first week of Advent in the Christian calendar.
I certainly have more questions than answers about how to heal, or “fix” this sickening and evil trend toward extreme violence in our schools. Certainly, as is the case with something of this magnitude, there is not one answer. Many small steps are necessary on multiple levels. However, there is a promise we can hold on to that provides much needed courage, hope and peace.
I’d like to offer a short word about how these two realities (the mass shooting threat and Advent) in fact have a lot to do with each other.
First, thank you to all of the school teachers, administrators and students who rise every morning to faithfully fulfill your God-given task. You head out every day to one of the many Ann Arbor schools. These are not easy days to be a student or on staff at a school. Why? Bomb threats. Viruses. The misuse of guns toward murderous ends. The politicization of all things. Cultural currents that disrupt and divide. These are only a few of the clouds that presently hang over our schools.
There is a book in the Bible called Isaiah. In chapter seven, a cloud was hanging over the land. There was great anxiety, even to the point of people shaking like trees in a windstorm. The anxiety came from the threat of violence and bad politics among other things. God spoke to a man by the name of Ahaz in the midst of his anxiety ridden life and said: “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two stumps of firebrands...” Well, those two stumps represented two bloodthirsty nations and were actually quite a big deal.
However, God essentially says, “I am a bigger deal! I love you and will provide for you! Real peace IS possible right here in the middle of this storm!”
Throughout the rest of Isaiah, God makes plain all of the reasons why we should stand firm in peace. I hope these words will reverberate in the hearts of our teachers, students, parents, and all who are grieving the current state of affairs in our schools: “There will be no gloom for her who was in anguish…the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest… for every garment rolled in blood will be burned…for to us a child is born, to us a son is given…of peace there will be no end!” (Isaiah 9). “Therefore says the Lord God: “O my people, be not afraid…” (Isaiah 10)…” “There shall come forth a branch, the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, and the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together and a little child shall lead them. The nursing child shall play over the hold of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy!...for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord and his resting place shall be glorious…” (Isaiah 11). “You keep him in perfect peace him whose mind is set upon you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock…O Lord, you will ordain peace for us.” (Isaiah 26).
The point of Christmas, of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, was to make these promises come true. The point of his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension to his throne was ultimately about bringing peace and providing the way into the new story of life out of the old story of death. Peace with God and peace in our hearts because we know God is for us and he is with us in Christ.
Lord, hear our prayer, especially for the teachers, students, and families of the students in our Ann Arbor schools:
Our loving and ruling Father, cause the words you spoke through Isaiah to be the overwhelming reality in the hearts of our teachers, students, and their families who are suffering through the unspeakable threats and scary unknowns they face every day. Cause the peace of Christ to rule in their hearts. Help them to not shake like trees in a windstorm, but to stand firm, trusting you, in perfect peace as they walk through this violent and imperfect world. Deliver those who rise to go to school every morning from evil, and help them to fix their eyes on the king who was born on that first Christmas. Help them to never take their eyes off of him. We offer this prayer in the peace giving name of Jesus, our savior, Amen.