“THIS IS WHY WE SING” an Advent Reflection on Isaiah 61:1-4 on the 5th anniversary of Newtown

Isaiah 61:1-4

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.


Today is the fifth anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.


I wonder what it might feel like tonight, these five years later, to hear God speaking

Good news to the oppressed,

Binding up the brokenhearted,

Liberty to the captives,

Release to the prisoners.

Five years ago:

Families lost children.

Children lost friends and teachers.

Many people lost their innocence as death, darkness and despair

struck its violent blow, and continues to encroach upon us everywhere.


And yet the prophet proclaims a word from the Lord –

A day of reckoning…is coming.

Comfort to those who mourn…is coming.

A garland of out of the ashes of lament…is coming.

Rebuilding out of the rubble…is coming.

The Savior of the nations…is coming.


I remember that day quite clearly.

It was a Friday. Tammie and I were out doing some shopping on a day off while the kids were at school.

We went to pick-up the kids, and Joanne Rocco (the Principal of South School) stood outside to greet each family. She carefully explained to each of us of the procedures the school had put into action. Her administration told teachers to keep their nerve and go on with the day. Teachers had not discussed the news with students. It was her view that families would be able to talk about it at home as they saw fit. We were also urged to remain calm as parents when we saw our children and not say anything among ourselves until we got home. A tense and uncertain situation was handled incredibly well, and Principal Rocco’s poise was tremendous during that time.

That evening at church we were hosting singing recitals for a local music studio in town. The director addressed the families who had assembled and simply acknowledged the tragedy and said, “This is why we sing.” Simple. Yet powerful.

I was there hosting the event, greeting people at the door (as I do). The Bishop called as I stood outside, asking how I was, did I know anyone affected, and how he could be helpful. Newtown was not far as-the-crow-flies from New Canaan but at least 45 mins away by car. We didn’t have any nearby ELCA congregations to Sandy Hook, but I heard from two of my pastor colleagues (who lived in Shelton and New Haven) who had decided to drive up to Newtown and walk around in their clerical collars and talk to people.

In the days that followed the Newtown shooting, I had heard of the Lutheran Comfort Dogs from Illinois had arrived that connected with the LCMS congregation in town – Christ the King Lutheran Church. [These Comfort dogs were a ministry of Lutheran Church Charities, led by Tim Hetzner who happened to be the Christian Education Director in the congregation I grew up in as a child, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Palatine, IL. Small world.]

The Sunday that followed was morose. We lit the paschal candle and prayed. We joined the lament from around the country and the plea for better protections of our schools, had discussions about gun laws and mental illness. And like most of us – even these five years later – had few answers that we could come to consensus upon, other than our sense of helplessness.

This is why we sing.

In town the First Selectman Rob Malozzi called for a meeting with the town clergy and a few of us participated. We would hold a prayer service on the town green with candles the following Saturday evening. Hundreds of people showed up on that cold, starry, snow-filled night, as we read from scripture, stood with our candles, prayed and we sang.

Tonight’s Advent hymn is “SAVIOR OF THE NATIONS COME.” It is an ancient song written by St. Ambrose of Milan in the Fourth Century, later translated by Martin Luther into German in the Sixteenth Century. Luther’s version was later translated into the English version we now have. It is a powerful confession of Christ’s Divinity, written in a time when who Jesus is, and was and what he could do was in question – which in our time is a pertinent question also. It also gives words to our desperate plea for God’s intervention when our world seems so dark and divided and full of despair that God would not forget the promise to deliver us.

This is why we sing.

It is a declaration of faithfulness –

When injustice, cruelty and violence seem to have a tightening grip upon us, to remember the tune that the Lord’s favor is coming soon.

This is why we sing.

It is also a beautiful Advent melody to remember that it is not we who save ourselves, or we who can construct a better plan that will all work out, or develop better politics that will bring everyone together, or fulfill the hope for a better world for ourselves.

This is why we sing.

It is God who declares: Good news is coming, binding up is coming, liberty is coming and release is coming, and it will arrive far better than we could ever provide for ourselves.

This is why we sing.

Luke tells not only the story of the manger that is coming (Luke 2), but also the Savior’s ministry too (Luke 4). Jesus pulled out the scroll in the synagogue, proclaimed these words of the ancient prophet to be fulfilled now in his arrival – to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captive and the imprisoned wherever we are.

The Savior of the nations comes not just metaphorically from the stories of old, but is realized in his suffering and death on the cross, and made ours by new life that bursts forth from the grave – as much in his time as his own. In our remembrance of tragedy, and in the fear and sadness we cling to years later; with his Divine Presence, he arrives with another word.

Only then can we listen and remember exactly what it is we are waiting for this Advent season as the air fills our lungs, as our diaphragms start to move, our vocal chords begin to vibrate and songs burst forth that we may not have even considered were possible.

This is why we sing.

And maybe then we can keep at the work set before us and not grow idle  – bringing comfort to those in morning, nurturing the new life that grows out of the ashes, and building up new things out of the rubble around us – because deliverance is on its way, and we are promised that destruction, death and darkness never have the last word. Not ever.

But first we wait. We pray. We listen. We cry out in hope.  And we sing. AMEN

About geoff sinibaldo

Follower of Jesus, Husband, Father, Son, Friend, Volunteer Firefighter, Teacher, Mission Focused Church Leader, Camp Lover, Change Proponent, Seeking Faithfulness in the 21st Century
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1 Response to “THIS IS WHY WE SING” an Advent Reflection on Isaiah 61:1-4 on the 5th anniversary of Newtown

  1. jsinibaldo says:

    Nice job, well said.

    Sent from my Galaxy Tab® A

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