(Originally posted 12/17/12; Updated 12/14/17)

On December 14, 2012 – a mere 40 minutes from where I was then living – sleepy “Newtown, Connecticut” became a household name after the horrific massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My route home for Christmas break took me through Newtown just three days later, where I wrote what follows from the passenger seat of the car. As we enter the Christmas season five years later – and in the wake of “unexplained” events like the Las Vegas massacre – this piece remains as relevant as the day it was written. The wounds caused by such inexplicable violence remain real in the lives of the victims’ families and friends (not to mention the wounds carried by our culture), and we do all involved a disservice if we do not stop to reflect on what Christmas truly means for them—and for us all:

December 17, 2012. Friday was an indescribably horrific day in the life of Newtown, Connecticut. Death will come to us all, but the calculating evil displayed by such an act rightfully leaves us at a loss for words—and there is something particularly unspeakable about the senseless brutalizing of children. Aurora was shocking, but something about violence towards children churns our stomachs in a visceral way that leaves us all the more furious and heartbroken. These were kindergarteners, no less: children in their first year of school, approaching their first Christmas break. For those families, I can’t help but think that Christmas can never again be a time of joy and giving, but will now always be a solemn remembrance ceremony of things lost. How can they ever recover? It’s truly devastating, and we would be callous, at best, not to spend some time reflecting on the deep, deep loss of those families, that community, or even our nation.

A few days after the shooting, however – as the dust begins to settle – it is worth reflecting on what “causes” these events. This is not the first apparently-random massacre we’ve encountered, of course, and the reaction from commentators has been predictable, if disappointing. Political opportunists spent Friday afternoon furiously tweeting in an effort to exploit the developing tragedy for their own agendas (the word “uncouth” comes to mind), and “gun control” is on everyone’s lips. While that response is understandable and that discussion should perhaps continue, however, the view of many that loose gun control somehow “explains” Sandy Hook is both simplistic and naïve. The problem is much deeper and more intractable.

If we strip away the posturing, the politicking, and all of the surrounding noise, we begin to realize that the core problem isn’t radical politics; it isn’t a lack of after-school programs; it isn’t even our gun policies—it’s us. William Golding once observed that “the problems of human society are the problems of human nature,” and while that is an incredibly terrible and daunting truth, it is only through that realization that we can begin crafting real solutions to the very real problem. There are no easy answers here, and we should resist the temptation to think otherwise. The gun control debate may justifiably rage on, but such environmental constraints only scratch the surface of a long-term solution.

And that’s why we celebrate Christmas—and why I hope and pray that every parent, sibling, and friend affected by Friday’s events turns to Christmas for solace and comfort. We think of Christmas as a joyful time for celebrating family and friends, which is why the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School may find it difficult to ever celebrate Christmas again. Their families will never again be complete. The rest of us should absolutely count our blessings and keep our families close, but if we stop there, we’ve missed the point. Real Christmas is about something much deeper, and it’s intimately tied up with events like the Newtown massacre. Christmas brings with it the hope of salvation from the brokenness and misery of a fallen world—salvation from Sandy Hook Elementary and all events like it.

Christmas doesn’t paper over our intractable condition, it speaks directly into it. Just consider the story of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 2, which recounts Herod’s insidious murder of the children of Bethlehem. We often leave that part out of our tidied-up Christmas story, but Jesus was no stranger to mass murder and incredible suffering, even as a baby. To those mothers who lost their children that Christmas, much like the parents of Newtown, it must have seemed as if the world had crumbled and could never be made right.

Yet in the Christmas story, we see the hope of a life where all wrongs can be righted and shattered families can, one day, be made whole. Jesus faced and conquered his own death and suffering, and through that, he offers to conquer all death and suffering. We will often continue to feel the pain of living in a broken world, as Newtown so vividly reminds us; but Christmas remains a time of joy even in the face of brutality and death because it ushers in the promise of redemption and resurrection. It’s the grandest claim of the Christian faith, and without it, Newtown can never be more than an unfortunate statistic.

That’s why those families who lost children last Friday need Christmas now more than ever before. That’s why we all need Christmas now more than ever before: because only through that Child can we find true and lasting peace.