God’s Advent Song: Good Christian Friends, Rejoice! Psalm 146:5-10
Last Sunday between the time our Chancel Choir left the sanctuary from their practice for tonight’s concert, and the youth groups came to Christmas carol, shots rang out at a Colorado mega church. By now you know that 24 year-old Matthew Murray was on a killing spree. 12 hours earlier he had knocked on the door of Youth With a Mission (YWAM) hoping to spend the night there. When there was no room at the inn, he opened fire killing two young missionaries. Fleeing that scene he showed up after Advent services at 10,000 member New Life Church with a high-powered rifle. Entering the foyer he opened fire. Then he went out to the parking lot and shot two teenage sisters. About 7000 people were on the church’s campus at the time. Ashley Gibbs was getting into a car with David Harris when they heard gunshots—“sounded like someone kicking ice from the side of a car,” she said. David said that Matthew’s eyes looked dead serious. Ashley and David stayed in the car and prayed. Thank God that Jeanne, an armed security guard, helped put Matthew and the church out of their misery. What a terrible tragedy in God’s house! How could this happen in the bosom of the church?
What’s to prevent this from happening in our parking lot during the Christmas season?
To answer we must understand the killer’s profile, God’s profile and the church’s profile.
My concept of the profile of a young serial killer is a bullied loner from a broken family. That is somewhat true. Neighbors describe him as a loner who was very quiet and didn’t talk to anyone. Matthew was home-schooled. But his family didn’t seem to be broken. Father a prominent M.D. in the community, and the family was very religious Wouldn’t religion provide him comfort in his troubles? Or were they extreme since one neighbor described them as “very, very religious?” His pastor/uncle spoke on behalf of the family pleading for forgiveness. We’re guessing that he was motivated by revenge because shortly after this 2002 picture was taken he was kicked out of YWAM for mental health reasons. Since then he had been sending YWAM hate mail. Last Sunday morning he posted this statement, copied from Columbine, on a website for anti-evangelicals:
God, I can’t wait till I kill you people. Feel no remorse…no shame.
I worry about kids who are taught a vengeful God. I worry about the kid who sits alone on the bus and to whom no one will sit next in the lunchroom. I worry about the kid who plays long hours on the computer alone, whose dad never remembers to visit. Is it just me, or as a society are we breeding a lot of young serial killers lately? Why?
But Matthew Murray was raised in the faith. What was the profile of his God? Somewhere in his religious upbringing he missed the God of the Advent song of Psalm 146. Did his uncle never preach on the God of the Christmas Carol: Good Christian Friends, Rejoice! Psalm 146 begins the series of the last five Hallelujah Psalms. You can hear that theme in verse 5… And then notice the list of people who can find help in the true understanding of the almighty…
What do you notice about this list of people?…
What does it say about God that the true God and father of Jesus helps these folk?…
I think that what this says about God is that God is the God of the Christmas story: the almighty who stoops to be born in a barn. The infinite in diapers! And so Psalm 146 tunes us to sing the praises of our God whose power is made perfect in weakness. What if Matthew Murray had been taught about God’s power in weakness?
But God cannot just be taught from a pulpit, God must be embodied in human community! As the Word became flesh, so we see Jesus in others. What is the church’s profile? I wonder if Matthew ever felt God’s love in church:
I wonder if anybody invited him on the youth group hayride?
I wonder if a teacher ever coaxed him out of the corner in Church School?
I wonder if a Deacon ever sat down with his parents to urge him into counseling?
As Christmas people we are not a cliquey, closed community, but cradling the Christchild makes us an open community. We are a people of the open hand—to receive God’s grace to our weakness and to give God’s grace to both weak and strong.
So embodying that we praise God’s power to weakness not just by word this morning, but by deed. After service we will talk to someone we don’t know before we look for our friends. At coffee hour no one will be standing alone. And, if we’re standing alone, we’ll go look for a Matthew. At church school today we’ll invite the quiet kid to next Sunday night’s youth Xmas party. Our small groups may decide to include a special needs person. In the lunchroom tomorrow we will sit by someone who will not better our social status, but who will better our soul’s status. And God is praised.
And as we grow into this body of Christ, this community of wounded healers, you know what we’ll find? We’ll find gems, like Charlotte who though she may be hard of hearing, she can really listen. And then we’ll find that God is not creating any Matthew Murray’s here, but God is creating a safe community where even Matthews are loved.