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In the face of unspeakable violence, why celebrate Christmas?
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D. Barbara McWhite grew up in York County, S.C., and lives in Orange Park, Fla., with her husband and cat. Her column is published here each Tuesday. Opinions expressed are solely her own.

I was at the gym when I heard the news -- anther school shooting -- this time at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The news caused me to shake my head in disgust and anger at the initial report that at least one child was dead.

I finished my exercise routine in a little over an hour, changed clothes then made my way across our little town to renew my driver’s license and vehicle tag. It was then, as I stood at the clerk’s counter, that I overhead talk that there had been as many as 18 deaths in the Newtown shooting.

I was stunned, and waves of sadness washed over me as I fought back tears. How could anyone deliberately kill children? I could barely speak or organize my thoughts as I completed the license renewal process.

By the time I drove the 20 minutes it took me to reach home, I learned that sadly the news was even worse -- 20 children and six faculty members had been slaughtered by a gunman wielding an automatic weapon. I waited to hear the number of wounded. It would become clear that the killer who entered the schoolhouse that day intended to end the lives of everyone he encountered. Only one person he shot was still alive.

Suddenly, Newtown, our country and indeed the world were plunged into the darkest chasm of grief. Gone was talk of fiscal cliffs, partisan bickering and racist rants. In their places were grieving and prayers for those we didn’t know but whose pain we were all willing to share.

Not since the September 11 tragedy had I been so shaken. My emotions swung wildly between seething anger and a ragged grief. How could this have happened? How could someone do this to innocent children?

My husband, Mike, and I, both on vacation for the Christmas holiday, struggled to find something -- anything -- that would explain why and how this could have happened.

As the gray autumn day gave way to the evening’s darkness, sadness threatened to engulf me. I sat fixated on the television screen, imagining the terrible grief and despair the parents and family of the murdered children and adults were experiencing.

The world seemed out of kilter. I was safe in my home, decorated and made festive for the Christmas season, but suddenly in the face of such violence and death, the bright lights and tinsel seemed garish and out of place. So when Mike moved to light the Christmas tree, I said sadly, “Let’s not light it tonight, honey. Just for tonight, let’s just let it be dark.”

Mike, understanding my sadness and, feeling his own grief, agreed.

But as quickly as the thought came to leave the tree unlit, another voice reminded me of the reason and the significance of the Christmas lights: To celebrate the One who came to light the world’s way from darkness to light – the One who gives us victory over hatred, violence and death: The Prince of Peace, The Light of the World.

So we lit our Christmas tree defiantly, knowing that violence and death cannot extinguish the love we share or the light that burns eternal through our faith.

This year, more than ever, as we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, as we search for forgiveness and healing, as we search for peace, as wise men did long ago, we must look for divine guidance and follow after That Brightest of Stars.

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October 6, 2015
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