Tuesday, December 1, 2015

RLPB 228. ADVENT: anticipating joy and terror

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 338 | Wed 02 Dec 2015


ADVENT: ANTICIPATING JOY AND TERROR
By Elizabeth Kendal

For Catholic and Protestant Christians, the birth of Jesus is celebrated on 25 December. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, Christmas Day is 7 January. Increasingly it is a season in which we anticipate not only joy, but terror -- for churches and gathered Christians are at a greater risk of terrorist attack over Christmas than at any other time during the year.

Christmas  Day,  Madalla, Nigeria,
25 December 2011.
Obviously the fact that Christmas services and festivities are often well attended, mostly by Christians, means Christmas gives Islamic terrorists an opportunity to maximise Christian casualties. But that is not the primary reason Christmas festivities are targeted -- after all, churches and Christians are increasingly being recognised as low value targets. For whilst Muslims are instructed to 'strike terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve' (Qur'an 8:12) jihadists are discovering that few people or world leaders are terrorised, threatened or even upset these days by the killing of Christians or Jews (who are routinely viewed as religious relics -- they'll eventually evolve, won't they?), or sacrilegious cartoonists and blasphemous bloggers (because they asked for it, didn't they?), or even Russians (because they are the enemy, aren't they?). No, to really grab a nation's attention these days terrorists need to be far more indiscriminate. If they are going to target anyone, it needs to be primarily secular humanists in their environments. Only then can the terrorists make their demands -- no 'blasphemy' (i.e. criticism of Islam), no 'conversion' (i.e. Christian witness), no crosses (too offensive), more Islam etc -- and be likely to get them.

So why do jihadists even bother targeting a church or Christmas festivity? The targeting of a church at any time is largely symbolic: it sends the message that when the new order arrives, Christianity will not be tolerated -- it is essentially a foretaste of what is to come. What needs to be understood is that it is not just the Christianity of the true believer that is in the terrorists' sights but the Christianity of culture, heritage, tradition and foundational values. Unfortunately, not many committed secular humanists realise just how precious these things are. In taking these blessings for granted, most will not realise their value until they are gone. Just as Christianity is being erased in its historic heartland of Mesopotamia, so too will Islamists seek to erase it everywhere -- Mesopotamia is merely 'ground zero' (the point of detonation). This is why it is imperative that everyone understands the Christian crisis in the Middle East, for it will 'be coming to a theatre near you'.

Church in Nag Hammadi, Egypt,
under armed guard after six Christian
youths were assassinated leaving
Christmas Eve service
on 6 January 2010.
source NYT
Each year the list of countries where Christmas services and festivities are at risk gets longer. This year we should anticipate the risk to be highest in Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Kenya and Bangladesh. We should also realise that risk could exist in Indonesia and Jordan (subject to previous plots) and possibly Southern Philippines, Tunisia, Bosnia and Mali (which have seen terror incidents this year). Because the world has changed dramatically during 2015, the risk of a Christmas terror attack is now also high in Russia, which is being threatened by IS and al-Qaeda; the European Union, with 'Rome' being the ultimate terror target, and where unknown Muslim migrants are flooding in at the rate of 5000 per day; Lebanon, which has seen terrorism this year and has been thoroughly infiltrated with IS and al-Qaeda-linked jihadists and sympathisers; and Israel, a high value target which has been infiltrated by IS, although security there is phenomenal. Even where IS and al-Qaeda have not established a presence, their ability to incite impressionable youth through social media and radicalised mentors is significant, thereby increasing the risk even more widely.

Terrorists intending to attack churches and festivities this Christmas will already be plotting, conducting surveillance, gathering materials, rehearsing and training -- preparing themselves logistically, materially, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Consequently, Advent is a great time to be praying for divine intervention for peace over Christmas.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* 'Break the arm [the power and means of action] of the wicked and evildoer' (Psalm 10:15a ESV); sever their supply lines, communication channels and relationships; remove their funding and leadership; foil their plots and confuse their schemes 'so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more' (Psalm 10:18b ESV).

* infiltrate the hearts and minds of would-be terrorists as they seek their god in preparation for their attack; may the Spirit of the Lord work powerfully to turn them from their path; to convict them of their sin; and even generously reveal himself to lost human beings in desperate need of his grace. (Ephesians 2:8)

'And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." ' (Acts 9:4,5 ESV)

* be pleased to use his Church to amplify the gospel of generous grace this Christmas. Prepare us Lord. Increase our faith that we might be living testaments to your generous grace.

'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.' (John 3:16 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ANTICIPATING JOY AND TERROR DURING ADVENT

Churches and gathered Christians worldwide are at a greater risk of terrorist attack over Christmas than at any other time during the year. Whilst the targeting of a church any time is largely symbolic, it sends the message that when the 'new order' arrives, Christianity will not be tolerated -- and not just the Christianity of the true believer but the Christianity of culture, heritage, tradition and foundational values. Terrorists intending to attack churches and festivities this Christmas will already be plotting, conducting surveillance, gathering materials, rehearsing and training: preparing themselves logistically, materially, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Consequently, Advent is a great time to be praying for divine intervention for peace over Christmas. May terrorist plots be thwarted and would-be terrorists seeking supernatural strength find instead the God of generous grace.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks toChristians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).


Her second book, ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday’: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, will be published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) in early 2016.