This would have to be one of the most confronting photos of the year. It also epitomises the reason for Christmas.
Sure there have been dozens – thousands – of bloodied survivors and non-survivors photographed around the world. Victims who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Photographers who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.
But there is a clinical nature to this photograph today earlier today in Turkey, almost, ironically given it was in an art gallery, artistic about it. A clean shaven, black suited gunman/police officer lying over the cruciform corpulent corse of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, whom he has just murdered. It has a filmic air to it.
As in the famous photograph of the summary execution of a Viet-Cong member by a South Vietnamese police officer, the still footage is far more shocking than the film footage. Both are available to view online, but it is the still picture that captures our imaginations, and indeed disturbs them.
It’s a reminder that when we quibble about whether there was a stable or not at Christmas; whether there were three wise men, or however many; whether there was an inn or not; whether or not the tired couple was turned away at a “We’re Full” sign, the main thing our world is missing about Christmas is the sheer brutality of sin that made it necessary. And not just the personal sin of the man above with the gun, nor the corporate sin of the Russian nation in its Syrian bombardments, which the prostrate Russian ambassador actually embodies, but my sin, your sin.
And that’s why it’s not enough for Christians to simply protest about refugees at Christmas and how Jesus was a refugee, fleeing for safety to Egypt, noble though that claim is.
At a deeper level he was forced to flee to Egypt because Herod could not countenance a rival claim to the throne. Just as we cannot countenance a rival claim to the throne of our own lives. How desperate would we be to maintain that throne? Desperate enough to kill to maintain our grip on that throne – that’s what the gospel message insists upon, despite our attempts to push the focus onto the sins of others.
I don’t know about you, but this Christmas I’m just about over the platitudes of mealy mouth religion that urges peace between humans, as if by our very own efforts we could achieve it. Our war with God has collateral damage – generally others who are made in his image. We hate Him so we hate them. And telling each other to love God and love others is not the gospel – it’s the law. We just can’t do it.
God is indeed great, as the gunmen espoused in almost incoherent yells. But he’s not great because he compels us to kill for his cause, but because in Christ, he came as the great King not merely the ambassador, and gave his life up for us; killed by us because we do not truly think that God is great. Christmas tells us he is.