Jesus Christ, a Violent World’s Only Hope

SNL's Silent Night and the Olympics Abide With Me.

In a beautiful and moving tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Saturday Night Live opened its Dec. 15 show with a children’s choir singing Silent Night.

It reminded me of the Olympic Opening Ceremony’s tribute to the 52 victims of London’s “7/7” terrorist attacks — an a capella performance of the hymn Abide With Me.

When the world needs to find hope in a dark hour, we still know where to look: Jesus Christ.

There have been many dark hours in 2012, a year marked by shocking violence that reached its most shocking in Newtown, Conn.

  • Last winter, violent soccer fans killed 79 and injured 1,000 after a game in Egypt.
  • Last spring, A Canadian cannibal killer made headlines by the grisly way he killed and disposed of a student’s body.
  • In 2012, America saw mass killings from coast to coast in unexpected places: A college classroom, a Sikh temple, a beauty salon, a movie theater, an office, a shopping mall.
  • Parents struggling to explain an elementary school shooting this week a few weeks ago were struggling to explain an NFL player’s murder/suicide.

These kind of attacks directly undermine hope, and hope is in short supply in 2012. College campuses’ student life offices were on alert this year because of a nationwide trend of student depression and suicide.

Faced with the bleakness here below human beings tend to look elsewhere, and Jesus Christ is still the best place to look.

In an increasingly secular society, why is Jesus still so popular to us when we are in trouble? One clue is given by those two hymns: Silent Night and Abide in Me.

They tell us that Christ provides people a “home.”

Secular values can try to replace a lot of things religion once provided. But modern secular societies have all been marked by a nagging sense of alienation and isolation. We feel empty and lost in the universe even when things are going well.

As Father Robert Spitzer described this sense of “not belonging”: “Many philosophers and theologians connect this feeling with a human being’s yearning to be home with the totality — not merely home with myself, my family, my friends, or even the world, but to be perfectly at home, without any hint of alienation. When the desire for perfect Home is even partially fulfilled, philosophers, theologians and mystics variously refer to it as joy—love—awe—unity—holiness—quiet.”

Violence uniquely disturbs this yearning we have for home. When something like the slaughter of kindergartners in their classrooms happens, we suddenly feel like there is no place for us, or our deep longings for belonging and safety.

We begin to feel exactly what is expressed in the hymn Abide With Me.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me

That’s like an Advent prayer — it has the desperation of the Old Testament figures who long for God to “rend the heavens and come down.”

The answer to the prayer is given by “Silent Night.”

There we finally see the place we can find the home we’re looking for— a place on earth that is also a place of divine intervention: “round yon Virgin Mother and child.”

The hymn promises precisely those things we long for: Joy, love, awe, unity, holiness and quiet.

Here is the Saturday Night Live performance.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.