Advent Devotion, December 17

Newtown, the News, and Prayer
By the Rev’d Ben Sharpe

This past week witnessed one more in a string of senseless atrocities (Columbine shooting, Virginia Tech shooting, Utøya Norway massacre, the Colorado cinema shooting, Wisconsan Sikh Temple attack, etc.) with the slaying of twenty elementary students and another six adults in Newtown, Connecticut.  To say that this was “shocking” or “tragic” seems to resort to easy clichés that are grossly insufficient to describe the evil that was done.  There really just aren’t words to describe this except for… “evil.”

What is our immediate response as believers to an event like this?  If we allow ourselves to get caught up with the spirit of our media saturated age and the twenty-four hour news cycle that drives the cable networks we are liable to spend countless hours in front of a screen.

Some of what we are presented with seems like earnest and sincere reporting.  Other segments are the emotional equivalent of picking the scabs of other people’s wounds.  There is a certain level of voyeurism that masquerades as concern in those that produce, and yes, those of us who consume news media.  And maybe we need to be a little uneasy that someone is actually cashing in on the misery of others as images of Mercedes Benz autos and the promotions of precious metal brokers intersperse the stories of tiny victims.

Please permit me to ask you a question: As a follower of Christ, why is it necessary to watch hours and hours of this kind of reporting?  Examine your spirit, your heart, and see what the effect of this is on your life.  Yes, we must be informed – it’s our obligation as Christians who are citizens of a democratic republic.   But how is our consumption of the news affecting our attitudes?  Our passions?  Our worldview? Part of the seduction of being a news junkie (I am in recovery, by the way) is that we succumb to the illusion that we are actually productively involved in the situation by our emotional participation in what is reported.  In reality, we aren’t.  We are merely absorbing information that has been shaped by the producers to provoke a certain response in those who consume the news.

The reality is that even with a very cursory knowledge of the events in Newtown we know enough to do the one thing that actually can effect this situation: we can pray.  We can pray for the families that lost loved ones.  We can pray for the community of Newtown.  We can pray for the children who survived this horror.  We can pray for the churches of Newtown to be embassies of the Kingdom of God and outposts of healing grace.  We can finally commend the lives of those who died into the hands of a merciful, just, and almighty Savior.

In short we can do what we were exhorted to do in the words of the Epistle Reading from the Third Sunday of Advent:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

Time spent being mesmerized by the media’s inevitable sensationalizing of misery could be time spent in actually taking these events to God the Father, in the Name of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, in prayer.  Doing so brings God’s peace into our lives in such a way that creates the potential for truly productive, Spirit-led action in the future.  Doing so invites the presence of the Good Shepherd into the lives of those who have truly been devastated in Newtown.