On April 30, 1970, President Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia, triggering massive protests on campuses around the nation. On May 2, after student protesters burned down the Kent State University's Army ROTC building, Ohio National Guardsmen were sent onto the campus to restore order. In the midst of an already inflammatory situation, fueled by the nation's internal conflict over the Vietnam War, the governor of Ohio personally came to the Kent State campus the next day to denounce the protesters as "worse than brownshirts" and vowed to keep the Guard at Kent State "until we get rid of them." One day later, four students were shot and killed and nine others wounded. Investigations would hold both students and Guardsmen responsible for the tragedy of that day when the world seemed to spiral beyond control and sense.
Around the country, students and others planned marches in response to the shock, anger and grief that marked the deaths of the four students at Kent State. In Austin, Texas, large numbers of students marched from the campus and through the downtown area in organized, silent vigil. One young student couple in particular walked the miles that day, wondering how anyone could have faith in a God who would stand by passive and silent as human beings suffered, as war was being waged and as communities were being torn apart. How could they have faith in a God who did not seem up to handling the serious and weighty questions they had struggled with in the academy and, now, so forcefully, in life? They walked the streets outwardly silent, but inwardly with turmoil loud in their souls.
Along the way, people stared, watching the marchers, some in agreement, many hostile. They marched, lost in their own thoughts and feelings until they neared the intersection of 9th and Trinity Streets, the home of Austin's First Baptist Church. As they neared the church, the young couple was confused when they heard the bells of the church tolling in time with the marchers. As if that were not enough to stun their senses -- this sense of solidarity coming from an unexpected place -- they could not believe it when they passed the church and found the pastor and some of the church's members handing them cups of water to drink, welcome relief on a warm Texas Spring day.
A young couple, deep in shock and grief, confused about their country, their world and their faith, began another journey that day. As one would put it, when she was asked to speak at Austin's First Baptist Church nearly thirty years later at the funeral of that pastor who had become, over time, her pastor and her husband's, the simple yet profound and authentic acts of a Christian minister that day initiated a relationship that would become the bridge to God that would, in time, make the "leap of faith" seem like it was over a chasm that was "not so wide" after all. She came to see that meaning in life had not so much to do with the answers to questions -- important as these are to us -- than in relationship to God and the ones who show us God's character of grace, humility and love.
I know a lot of people who are like that young couple. You do, too. Confused by a world that values power, might, prestige and money -- the soulless values of all times and places -- some no longer even wonder about God's place in it all, and succumb to despair and "deadly sins" sought to fill the despairing place in the soul. We have seen at Christmas the miracle of Incarnation, the miracle of sacred love in relationship brought from Creator to the created. In a time of despair ancient, God sent only Himself, the Author of authentic relationship, of grace, humility and love. In our dangerous and challenging present, God sends us to be authentic and courageous, showing the way to God by loving others, some of whom are poor materially, some poor in faith. What a gift we have been given to be the gift that may lead to faith and life eternal.
And from a Christmas card someone shared with me:
If you look for me at Christmas,
You won't need a special star.
I'm no longer just in Bethlehem,
I'm right there where you are.
You might not be aware of Me amid the celebrations
You'll have to look beyond the stores and all the decorations.
But if you take a moment from your list of things to do
And listen to your heart, you'll find I'm waiting there for you.
You're the one I want to be with, you're the reason that I came.
And you'll find Me in the stillness as I'm whispering your name.
This year, at Christmas, may God bless you all.
Reverend Doctor Harry Boyd, Jr.