It has been a bad week. The Sydney hostage crisis, the Peshawar school massacre, the murder of eight children in one family in Cairns. These tragedies have been publicly watched, mourned and analysed. And some common sentiments I’ve seen expressed on social media are things along the lines of “It’s all too much.” “Why do so many terrible things happen at once?” I can’t take any more tragedy or bad news this week.” “Not this week – it’s Christmas!”
Without in any way wanting to downplay these tragedies – which I too have struggled to comprehend – I’m left asking a number of questions.
Has this week been a worse week than usual?
Is the world getting more violent?
Or are we just more aware of and more connected to terrible things happening than ever before?
Is terrorism somehow worse when it happens to people like me?
And why do we kind of seem to think tragedies are greater when they happen close to Christmas?
For people directly affected by these terrible events, I’m not sure whether either the time of year or the size of the social media response makes much difference to their grief and loss. I certainly don’t think it matters where in the world they are or what colour their skin is. The pain for those who have lost loved ones in senseless violence must be overwhelming.
For the rest of us, however, I’m intrigued by what we might learn about ourselves in weeks like this. For starters, if I’m honest, I have to wonder how much my reactions (and those of people I know and follow) are often really about the “it could have been me” factor.
But I also wonder what it shows up about our assumptions about pain and violence and suffering. It seems that we have certain expectations about where terror and violence “shouldn’t” happen … does that mean that subconsciously we think there are therefore places where it “should”?
Are those who feel these things shouldn’t happen this week because “it’s Christmas” unknowingly implying that any other time of the year is … well, if not ok, at least a bit better?
I don’t quite know where to go with these questions of mine. I realise they might sound impertinent, insensitive, or even offensive.
But what I do know is this. That deep down I am not surprised by violence and terror and suffering in this world. Because the biblical story tells me that this world is a broken, hurting, messed up place. We are broken, hurting, messed up people.
And maybe as a Christian, I should actually be less surprised about these things at this time of year. Perhaps part of celebrating Christmas is remembering why we need Christmas in the first place.
I want to push back against a culture which is telling me that Christmas is all about happiness and family and harmony and feeling good and buying stuff. But you might then think I am going to get all cliched and talk about how “Jesus is the reason for the season.” I’m not. Because I don’t think He is. (I hope that’s not considered blasphemy!) Yes, Jesus is the One whose birth we celebrate this time of year.
But the reason He was born?
Can I suggest to you that it is the precisely the fact that this world is so messed up, so broken, so desperately in need of salvation, that the God of the universe stepped in and became one of us?
That the reason we need Christmas is because the world has long been a place of violence and terror and pain and grief. Maybe we see it on our screens with more immediacy than ever before, or maybe we’ve just been the privileged few who have been protected from the harsh realities for too long. But throughout history and around the world, people have been and are hurting and abusing and terrorising and warring against and inflicting suffering upon one another every single day. We desperately need a Saviour. I don’t know about you, but watching the news this week has again reminded me of that simple fact.
So this week, as we celebrate Christmas, we can try to see it as a time where we forget about all the terrible, messed up, broken and imperfect things going on in the world, or perhaps in our own lives, and on Thursday we can work really hard to have that one perfect day which is nothing but peace and harmony and happiness.
Or, we can choose to acknowledge that it is into the midst of the suffering and brokenness and violence of our world that Jesus comes, and that we need Him to come. We can set aside time this Christmas to include space for mourning and longing and crying out that the world is not all as it should be.
We can enter into the ancient cry of God’s people, desperately seeking the one thing that I believe can truly make a difference in this broken, hurting, messed up world: