Her cellphone beeped with a text message from a friend as she pulled into a grocery store parking lot.
As she read about the school shooting in Connecticut, Jammie Hermans sobbed.
The heartbreak and anger that struck Hermans, a Papillion mother of four young children, has turned her and others to their faith and their house of prayer for answers.
People are trying to reconcile the joy of Christmas with the terrible sadness of the tragedy. Local clergy members say that once the 24-hour holiday music and shopping frenzy are stripped away, Christmas offers a powerful message of hope, strength and forgiveness for people to draw on.
“Christmas is about the truth,'' said Dr. Roger Theimer, children's pastor at Omaha's King of Kings Lutheran Church. “God did send His son, Jesus, and Jesus does give life. There is healing.”
Local Jewish and Muslim leaders said their faiths also offer spiritual muscle, and comfort for those grappling with the shooting.
Omaha experienced a December tragedy firsthand five years ago with the shooting at Von Maur department store that left eight dead, plus the 19-year-old gunman, who killed himself.
In any year, the holiday season can bring sadness for people who have lost a spouse, family member or friend. More people may be feeling that emotion because of the deaths in Connecticut, pastors said, and that is normal.
“It's OK, because God is sad with us,” said the Rev. Ernesto Medina, rector of St. Martha Episcopal Church in Papillion.
At his church on Christmas Eve, a lector will read Scripture from Isaiah that provides comfort, Medina said, for those feeling pain: “The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them a light has shined.”
He said the meaning is as simple as it is powerful: God is with those who are suffering, or see themselves in darkness.
Hermans, a member of St. Martha Church, said she has felt anger toward the gunman for the pain he inflicted on families of the victims. She said Christmas, with its message of salvation, has helped her balance that emotion.
She said she realizes that the salvation that the birth of Jesus promises is for all people — even the gunman.
“(God) put His son on Earth so we all can be saved,'' she said.
Fa'iz Rab, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Omaha, said the young age of most of the victims hit Muslims at his center hard. But members of the center have found reassurance through their faith. As Muslims, he said, they believe children go straight to heaven.
Muslim teachings, for example, say that a child that dies in infancy is holding open the gates of heaven for its mom and dad.
“That is extremely comforting for parents,'' he said.
The deaths of the children in Connecticut also were particularly heartbreaking for members of Omaha's Temple Israel, given Jewish history, said Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, its senior rabbi.
A half-million Jewish children died in the Holocaust, he said, so Jewish people understand the anguish of young lives lost.
The shooting occurred during Hanukkah. Azriel said that although the holiday now is over, Hanukkah's emphasis on the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, is a message of hope that endures.
“You don't sit in the darkness and curse the darkness,” he said. “You are supposed to light a candle and bring the light.”
The Rev. Jane Florence of Omaha's First United Methodist Church said the Scripture reading for today offers a message of hope, as well as trust in the power of the Lord.
The passage from the Book of Matthew describes an angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream and telling him: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us.'”
Florence said the realization that God is present in our lives, through both joy and sorrow, is a powerful message for anyone touched by loss.
The Rev. Ryan Lewis of Omaha's St. Thomas More Catholic Church said the Gospel reading for midnight Mass on Christmas Eve also delivers compelling words.
The passage from Luke talks about an angel telling the shepherds about the birth of Jesus: “To you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
“Even though evil abounds,'' Lewis said, “grace abounds even more. The ultimate victory has been won by Jesus.”
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