Here’s the testimony the world gives in 2013.
Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, Peshawar, Pakistan: In bright fall sunlight—and I assume bearing full hearts—worshippers are leaving All Saints Church when two members of the Taliban, each wearing vests weighed down with 6 pounds of hard-wired explosives, show up at the church and blow themselves up near its entrance. The attack kills 84 churchgoers and seriously wounds another 146.
Among the dead are two brides, married the day before, who returned for the Sunday service to give thanks for their marriages. Also dead is a primary school headmaster and his entire family—his wife and two young daughters, along with his brother and a nephew. The force of the explosions was so great, investigators later said, they found the skull of one of the bombers on the rooftop of the church.
If you look at the testimony the world gives, you have to face facts: There is no peace on earth, no good will to men. Like most every year before it, 2013 has been a year when men enjoyed thinking up more ways to do evil under the sun. Some of the explosions are loud, as in Peshawar. Others are explosions of the human heart, ricocheting off family and friends in ways the outside world only dimly perceives. And still others explode publicly into our culture, but bounce against bulwarks of institutions, families, and hard-working cities and towns across America as though hitting off an oversized feather mattress. Make no mistake, the shrapnel wounds are real but the downy insulation keeps us from feeling them for a while.
The challenge is to step inside the suffering and grief of this present world with its wars and abuse and hatred of God and men, and there find the testimony the church gives.
Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, Peshawar, Pakistan: The survivors return to All Saints Church. Most of its parishioners live in a nearby colony for sanitation workers. They are garbage collectors, and mostly poor (as are many Christians in Pakistan). Yet they have come back to the scene of the bombing.
They collect the scattered shoes of the children killed. They clean up the Sunday school papers and books that litter the churchyard. They rinse and clean the bloodstains inside the church (which still reeks of death). As they work, they wail and weep and sob. Then they gather themselves into the pews, a very small collection now that their numbers have been so decimated—and they sing. The women raise their hands in prayer, and they worship the God who gave life and has taken it away.
This is not the only moment of redemption out of Peshawar the world missed. That same week Muslims and Christians alike took to the streets to protest the bombing, a rare moment of solidarity in Pakistan. In England an Anglican layman of Pakistani descent took it upon himself to raise more than $30,000 for the Peshawar victims. He traveled there in October to distribute the funds to more than 150 families hurt by the bombing. And this month All Saints Church, one of the oldest in Pakistan, will celebrate its 130th anniversary.
Stepping into the hardship and horror doesn’t fix everything. But it reminds us of Advent, our season of waiting. Because that is what Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, does. He has come to be God with us. He has come because He wanted to, not because He had to, binding up the world’s misery and healing its wounds, and making a way for evil men to come to God.
In Advent season we are waiting. Mindful of those who waited in darkness for a coming Messiah, we wait for His return, but we wait in the light—the light of His love and the loving example of His incarnation, His willingness to draw near to the hardships and horrors of this world to redeem them. It’s what makes men and women return to a blood-soaked church, and sing.