Newtown tragedy casts shadow on Christmas

PRAYER ALERT: Just as Americans are starting vacations from the stress of work or school, it is a wrenching national experience to face the massacre of 28 innocent people, including 20 young children—traumatic for the families and community involved, and alarming for the rest of us. At least as far as we allow ourselves to ponder it. There is a continuing nationwide clamor for an answer to the question, how could such a thing happen? And for those we turn to for providing immediate answers—whether to parent or teacher or newscaster or president or pastor—the answers are not easy. We’ve seen many jump to conclusions to beat their competition to the punch while their issue has the spotlight, whether it is gun control or the right to bear arms, or whether left-wingers or right-wingers are the first to fly off to crazy extremes. It is better to evaluate only what we know of this case, and wait for the rest of the facts to come in. But we can agree with what so many Christian leaders are saying, that this unthinkable act was evil and we should keep praying for the families and everyone else who was personally affected.

But there is another issue to consider as the rest of the world looks in. Why do senseless massacres always seem to happen in America? Elsewhere they are done by groups committed to a religious, political or military cause, whether Islamic jihadists or Mexican drug gangs. Those acts are no less evil, yet they are explainable. But it seems an almost uniquely American evil that an isolated individual would blindly strike out against some part of the world which he vaguely holds responsible for his misery, knowing he will die or be severely prosecuted as a result. Not one of these assailants have ever given clear reasons for what he did. It seems like confusion striking out against its own desperate confusion. But there are few places like America where an individual can afford to become so isolated and unaccountable, and where he can take refuge from his relational conflicts in the bizarre array of movies,TV programs and internet sites which pander to reckless and violent impulses, and which actually encourage the individual to indulge in wild, paranoid, and destructive fantasies. These media are often so visceral that they seem more real than their comparatively placid and indifferent surroundings.

Americans prize their individuality, which has produced so many self-made millionaires and eccentric artists and world-leading technological innovators. But for anyone who fails to capture the world’s recognition in these ways, it is too easy to wreak surprise vengeance on unsuspecting people who do not recognize him. We must be on the lookout for isolated, shy and uncommunicative individuals and bring them into community. That’s a role that the church must serve—especially when the family, school and workplace doesn’t. Unfortunately too many churches affirm individuality at the expense of community. Pastors and televangelists too often pitch their messages to the individual–”You have it in you to achieve your own dream (with God, who of course is only too happy to oblige it).” And yet no one part of the body can move very far without the other members. Their message is a self-centered gospel which often makes God into a personal idol who serves personal ends. If we look at the New Testament, most of the letters were written to the whole community, and use the plural you much more often than the singular you. The few letters that were written to individuals—Timothy, Titus and Philemon—were written for the sake of the larger community. Let us pray that God will use this tragedy to set His church on course to be truly one people—even one family. And let us witness to the world that He is the one true God—the only one worth living and dying for—in this fragile and temporary life.

PRAY WITH US: We kneel before You Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. Father, You know what it is like for Your only Son to die a cruel and unjust death. Be with the families whose innocents were slaughtered, and share Your great grief over the loss of these precious lives. Do not let the increase of wickedness cause their families’ love to grow bitter and cold. Show them Your way through through this season of mourning, with the promise that they will be comforted. Provide Your answers for what can be answered at this time. Is it possible that You can work this to the good? Yes, if this draws families closer together, closer to Your church, and closer to You. Show us how to fill in the gaps between relationships—especially with isolated and lonely individuals—so that there is no room for bitter roots to grow up and destroy many.

Expose bitterness and isolation as the work of the devil. Jesus came to destroy his work, to atone for our sin, and make us one. That was His final prayer for us before He was killed—to make us one as He is one with You. Your church in America is far from that oneness, Lord. But that is our destiny, for Jesus’ prayer will be answered. So we agree with His prayer, and ask You to show us, individually and together, how to love each other better, and how to love the unlovable too. That is what You did with the mass murderer Saul. “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). There are many blasphemers and persecutors and violent men who like him can be changed by one encounter with You. Make us a house of prayer for them. Meet them where they are, before they do more damage, and help us to show Your way to turn from being fighters to uniters as Paul was. Turn You church into a family which takes in prodigal sons and makes them into fathers like You. Especially in this season when we gather to celebrate the birthday of Your Son. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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