2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

On Friday, December 14, a gunman walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot and killed 26 people, 20 of them children ages 6-7. All day long, I heard the emerging details of horror over the news. Then, that night, our family attended our 6-year-old son’s school Christmas concert, and watched children, many of them ages 6-7, sing worship songs to God who was born to us as a little baby boy.

In one single day, I was confronted both with news of unspeakable horror, and with news of great joy and hope--both involving little children. Both news was true. This world is wonderful and beautiful, filled with amazing joy and grace, but this world is also terribly and horribly broken, filled with incredible suffering and sorrow. Perhaps none could tell us better than the children. The gospel message of Christ declares both sets of news are, indeed, true.

I was thankful for the Christmas concert, because it enabled me to see this atrocity and all the other atrocities that go on in our fallen world through the lens of the Advent. Our world and our hearts were so lost in darkness that God himself needed to come and save us into his light. All the great Christmas hymns say so:

  • No more let sins and sorrows grow
  • nor thorns infest the ground:
  • he comes to make his blessings flow
  • far as the curse is found...

There have been a few things I’ve been meditating on since the shooting. The conversation about gun control and right to bear arms that comes up in times like this is an important one to have for us as a society. But for this post’s purposes, I’ve focused on some other things.

One has to do with my own participation in the fallenness of this world, and the need for my own redemption. The first reaction I had to the news from Connecticut was one of revulsion: “What kind of a sick, demented person would do this?” But that is too easy. It is a way of depersonalizing this evil as something “out there,” apart from me.

But if we are truly honest, if we have been attentive to the signs that crop up again and again in our lives, we have to admit that the seeds of death and horror live within our hearts too. I’m thinking of the anger, the frustration, the feeling that you’re the victim, the self-centeredness. You may know that you are a sinner in theory, but from time to time the doctrine of depravity actually comes to life, in our angry words of retaliation, in the boasting, in the put-downs, in the complaints of “Why me?”, and in the unnecessarily angry yelling at the kids.

These dark forces don’t always come out full-blown, thank God, but we know they’re there, lurking in the shadows of our own hearts. So the gunman is in a way a reflection of our flesh. It’s terrifying to admit that, but it’s what the Bible teaches, and it accords with our own experience. We are wonderful and beautiful in many ways, but we’re also broken and capable of so much fallenness. We need a redemption that is much deeper than a tighter hug for our children. We are in need of confession and repentance for our own fallenness. As the saints of old have prayed, “Forgive us my sins and the sins of my people.” 

Two has to do with how this shooting is, tragically, not all that extraordinary. This particular mass shooting was especially a shocker because the victims were young children. But we forget that mass horrors against children occur everyday all around the world.

We think of the civil wars in Congo and Syria. We think of suicide bombings in Iraq. We think of casualties of war in Afghanistan. Closer to home, we think of young people’s lives, many of them small children, lost to violence in our inner city neighborhoods. Some have wondered why the loss of the lives in Connecticut have provoked more outpouring of emotion and support than the losses experienced in other places.

The Newtown shooting was an evil that should not have been, but so are the acts of violence committed against children everyday all around the world (or even close by in our own cities) that too often go unnoticed and unmarked by many of us. Evil should never become banal; tragically, it has, except for a few stories here and there that capture our attention for different reasons.

May the Newtown shooting awaken God’s people to the horrors of our world, break our hearts, and give us fuel for petitioning the Lord persistently for justice and shalom to finally reign, instead of going back to business as usual. The message of the Advent is one of God who came to war against the evil going on everyday in our world, not one of inoculating us with a sentimental message of peace, peace, when there is no peace.

Three, God is not immune from violence. More accurately, he willingly condescended to share in our suffering at the hands of violence. We remember the slaughter of the innocents at the hands of a power-hungry King Herod. We remember the torture of the Messiah at the hands of soldiers. We remember the cross where God experienced a violent death and the violent loss of a loved One.

But we also cannot forget the empty tomb and the Spirit that the risen Christ has given his Church so we may struggle against the kingdom of darkness. We cannot forget the new world coming where death will have died its final death.

The Advent reminds us of all this and much more. There is a deep mystery to the message that God became flesh and blood so that it can be broken and it can be shed for the sake of rescuing us from this world of violence.

So seeing those children sing songs of worship to the baby Savior, that night after a day of darkness, gave me reason to be thankful in the midst of our brokenness; to strengthen my resolve in the struggle against the darkness in the world and in my heart; and to worship the God who came down to a world such as this. We don’t need to turn away from the horrors that inhabit our world and our hearts. Instead, we go to the Star of the Advent, and receive healing, hope, and courage. We are sent back into our violent world to be his light until his return.

Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission.

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