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The most wanted man in Europe is dead. Anis Amri was suspected of killing twelve people and injuring fifty-three others in the Berlin truck attack. ISIS called him a “soldier of the Islamic State.” He was killed early this morning in a shootout outside Milan, Italy, after a routine traffic stop. When asked to show identification, he pulled a pistol from a backpack and shot the officer who asked for his papers. A second officer then killed Amri.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters today that officials have stopped a terrorist plot to attack the city of Melbourne, possibly on Christmas Day. Five people who were “self-radicalized” by the Islamic State have been arrested. The country’s justice minister said the attack would have “caused very significant casualties.”
This news brings mixed emotions, doesn’t it? We’re relieved that authorities have killed one terrorist and stopped five others. But questions persist: When will the next attack come? Why are innocent civilians in danger? And why is this happening at Christmas?
I can answer the second question briefly: to radical Muslims, there are no “innocent civilians” in the West. Since our countries are democracies in which we elect our leaders and support our military, they consider us complicit in an “attack on Islam” they believe has been going on for decades.
They view our military actions during the Gulf War and in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria as an assault on the Muslim world. They see our support for Israel as an attack on Islam as well. In their minds, killing Western civilians is a defense of Islam required by the Qur’an. Tragically, the fact that Muslim scholars the world over have condemned their theological logic does not deter them.
Now to the other questions: When will the next attack come? And why is this happening at Christmas? The two questions are related. Only the terrorists know when they will attack again. But they are using the Christmas holidays to terrorize us because they know how special these days are to many in the West. If we’re not safe at Christmas, we’re not safe any time of the year. And that’s just what they want us to think.
Here’s the amazing news: Jesus came at Christmas precisely because the world isn’t safe. He knew he would become a victim of violence himself—falsely arrested and accused, tortured, and executed in the vilest manner possible. He did all of that to give sinful people an opportunity to be forgiven and transformed by the grace of God. He came for Anis Amri and every sinner you know. Including you.
One of my favorite Christian intellectuals is Alister McGrath. A professor of science and religion at Oxford, he possesses doctoral degrees in molecular biophysics and systematic theology. In Intellectuals Don’t Need God & Other Modern Myths, he notes the consequences of Christianity: Christians have been delivered from the penalty of sin; we are being delivered from the power of sin; and we will finally be delivered from the presence of sin. All of this is what Christmas means today.
I hope you’ll make time this weekend to join the shepherds in their wonder and the angels in their worship. I hope you’ll invite someone to join you at the manger. And I hope you’ll remember that the Child who was born at Christmas and raised at Easter is coming again. One day our violence-wracked world will be no more. One day all terrorism will cease and the Prince of Peace will rule. One day, every day will be Christmas.
What if it were today?