Advent Violence
Across Pacific Magazine

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Advent violence 

By Jeff Fountain

Just as we were celebrating the second Sunday in Advent–and the proclamations of the angels about ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’–news came through of the shooting incident at the YWAM Denver base. Shortly after came further reports of a second fatal attack further south in Colorado Springs at a church closely-related to YWAM.

The gunman (or gunmen) and the motives are not yet known as I write this. Neither has the relationship between the two incidents been established.

But we are shocked. We are grieved. Our hearts go out to those directly involved, particularly the families of the two young YWAMers who died in surgery from their wounds in Denver. Tiffany Johnson (26), from Minnesota, and Phil Kraus (24), from Alaska, both passed away in hospital.  Two other young men, aged 22 and 23, still lie wounded in hospital.

Hours later in Colorado Springs, two teenage sisters were shot dead in the parking lot of the New Life Centre. The gunman himself was felled soon after by a female security guard as he entered the church building where 7000 people were present.  The girls’ father still lies wounded in hospital.

Then, on top of these shocks, more distressing news arrives as I am writing this piece. Maris Dzelsz, our YWAM leader in Latvia, simply failed to wake up this morning in his bed, after arriving home from America two days ago! Maris, in his late 40’s, leaves behind his wife Judite, five children and a grandchild.   

This was certainly not the Christmas we were looking forward to! Questions jostle for answers in our minds. Why? Why would anyone do such a evil thing? Tiffany and Phil were simply cleaning up after a Christmas party when the midnight killer arrived. Why these young lives, dedicated to missions?. Why did God allow those two sisters to be killed? Why was Maris taken from his family when there was still so much for this energetic visionary to do in his country, so much life to enjoy with his family? 

Why do such things happen? And why at Christmas? Isn’t Christmas all about peace on earth? Wasn’t that the meaning of the coming of Jesus, the Prince of Peace? Didn’t Jesus come to defeat sin, death and the devil? So why all the evil around us still? Why Iraq? Why Afghanistan? Why Dafur? Why Zimbabwe? Why Kosovo? Did Jesus fail in his mission??!

Sometimes we forget the violent side of the Christmas story. It disturbs our warm, cosy, sentimental family celebrations. But there is a dark side to Advent. And it reminds us that we remain in a deadly serious battle. We have a deadly adversary. And we are all infected by a deadly virus. That was the reality two thousand years ago. That is still the reality today. 

At this time of the year, we love to quote such verses as, ‘For unto us a child is born...’ from Isaiah’s ninth chapter. And rightly so!But we often forget the context of violence of this verse: references to the rod of the oppressor, the warrior’s boot and garments rolled in blood. Somehow the birth of this child is linked to the defeat of such very real enemies. 

Yet in Revelation chapter 12, we read of a dragon waiting to devour this new-born babe, this ‘male child, the son who was to rule all nations with an iron sceptre’ (v.5). Matthew gives us insight into this scenario. He describes Herod’s fury at the news of the birth of a rival king, and his order to murder all male babies. The evangelist in turn quotes Jeremiah 31:15, prophesying a sobbing, lamenting Rachel, ‘weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they were no more.’  Even Advent itself brought violence. This gruesome scene has been the subject of painters through the centuries, including the Peter Paul Rubens painting shown here. 

Jesus himself warned us that we could expect  violence, persecution, imprisonment and even death when we followed him in obedience. Following him would mean the path of suffering. For creation would remain in its fallen state; sin, death and the devil would continue to wreak havoc; wars and persecutions would keep on disrupting human life–until the Day of the Lord, when the books of history are finally balanced.  

His first coming, as a vulnerable babe, began the redemption plan for the human race–indeed for the cosmos. The God-child was the one solution for sin, death and the devil.  

Our mission is to take this message to everyone everywhere. That mission was what Tiffany, Phil and Maris committed their lives to do. It is the one solution for violence–at Advent or any other time of the year. And we continue to live in the expectancy, the hope, of that day when the angels’ proclamations of ‘peace on earth’ will be fulfilled.  

Let’s take comfort in today’s reading from the Moravian Daily Texts: 
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 
Luke 1:78,79

Till next week,
 Jeff Fountain

Two YWAM Staff Killed in Denver - official YWAM press release
Megachurch and Mission Killings linked - according to police investigation (AP report)
Colorado Gunman Scared Co-Workers 5 years ago (Assist News Service)

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