In recent weeks, two communities were shattered and shaken to the core.
First in Scottsville, where 7-year-old Gabriella “Gabbi” Doolin was kidnapped while attending a Little League football game with her family. Her brutalized body was found later that evening in a creek behind the football stadium, a place better known for bonding together the small south-central Kentucky community as residents gathered to watch the boys of fall play.
Then, Versailles mourned the tragic loss of 6-year-old Logan Tipton, who was murdered by a home invader while asleep in bed. A candlelight vigil with hundreds in attendance let the Tipton family know that an entire community mourned alongside them. Peter Barnhardt, friend of the family, told the Herald-Leader, “We’re just trying to wrap our heads around this.”
And so are the rest of us.
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No community is immune from evil, and we seem to be increasingly reminded that perpetrators of the most heinous acts reside in our own ranks. But what do we do when it hits close to home? Scottsville resident Andrew Hogue told the Bowling Green Daily News, “We’re not used to violence like this in the community, when such a beautiful life gets snuffed out. I can feel the tension and turmoil in this town, there's been no relief for six nights.”
In the face of the unthinkable, it’s understandable that such tension becomes gripping, perhaps choking any relief. We’ve been painfully reminded in recent weeks that evil cuts through geographical boundaries — from the streets of Chicago to rural communities like Scottsville, meets us in offices like the one in San Bernardino and quiet neighborhood homes like the Tiptons’.
The motivations behind evil might differ, but the source is of identical origin, and when it strikes at innocent children it’s hard to bear.
Which brings us to the Christmas story.
We celebrate gift-giving, family gatherings and feasting — often forgetting exactly why — but the backdrop of Christmas is couched in darkness and evil. Christianity teaches that some 2,000 years ago, a baby born to wayfaring peasants came to rescue a fallen mankind.
Even then, as Christ came to rescue us from the despair of sin and darkness, a very jealous King Herod ordered the execution of all babies in his domain under the age of two. The message of a new king and possible rival brought by The Wise Men drove him to madness.
Mere words fail miserably to offer condolences to the families who've had children stolen away from them — then and now. Vigils of solidarity, shared hugs, and spent tears offered to the grieving help relieve the pain. And yet, the scars still remain.
Critics will surely charge that such evil is evidence that there is no God. Or if he exists, he's certainly unloving and aloof. Yet the Christ-child we're about to celebrate is the only God who bears the scars of evil.
How fitting that in the midst of our grief, we turn to the one who identifies with injustice and deep pain; a savior who comforts us in our grief and delivers us from evil. It doesn't come with lights or decked in the latest technology, but is there any better Christmas present?
Heather Tipton told the Herald-Leader that Logan “was terrified of the dark,” but when she sang Silent Night, regardless of the time of year, “he’d go right to sleep.”
Less than a day after Logan was killed, his mother led hundreds of mourners in singing Silent Night one last time. May each of us join the chorus.
Richard Nelson of Cadiz is executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a nonprofit public policy group.