Sunday, December 2, 2018

Advent Reflections: Fear Not

The Annunciation, Carl Bloch.
As Advent 2018 unfolds, I’m going to try to offer some thoughts as I reflect on how this season always points us to the hope of a better world.

The theme at the church I attended today, the fist day of Advent, was “Fear Not.” We focused on the first chapter of Luke, when the angel Gabriel tells first Zechariah, then the Blessed Virgin Mary, not to fear, as he brought them both good news of children to come. Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, would conceive John the Baptist, despite her advanced age, while Mary, her younger cousin, would become the Mother of the Incarnate Word.

Both Zechariah and Mary initially expressed fear when they encountered the angel, but there was an important distinction in how they processed their fear. Zechariah responded with doubt, asking the angel, “How will I know that what you say is true?” Mary, in contrast, asks, “How can this be, since I do not know man?” Mary doesn’t doubt the prophecy of Gabriel; she only wonders how she’s going to be impregnated. But Zechariah, knowing that he and Elizabeth are both on in years, essentially casts doubt on Gabriel’s words, wondering how he can be sure of what the angel is saying – and that’s why Zechariah is struck mute until John’s birth.

Mary, an unwed young girl who had everything to lose by becoming pregnant in a manner other than with her betrothed, humbled herself as the handmaid of the Lord and told Gabriel, “Be it done unto me according to your word.” She faced a future in which she could have been divorced, ostracized, even put to death. But she set aside her fear because she trusted in God’s plans for her life, no matter how perplexing they may have seemed to her. She was, from the start, a model disciple, and continues to be the model Christian for us all.

Zechariah, as a priest, should have known better than to doubt the word of the angel. He should have had faith. Yet his faith faltered.

How do we respond to fear in our lives, our world? Are we like Zechariah, reluctant to have faith when we need it? Or are we like Mary, embracing our faith even when things don’t make sense?

Our world today suggests that we don’t handle fear very well. Our fear manifests frequently and forcefully, in our hateful words, in our violence, in war. Our fear “others” people, stereotypes them, demonizes them, assumes the worst of them. Fear builds walls and razor-wire fences. Fear pulls the trigger, lobs the tear-gas canister, drops the bomb. 

This is no way to live. No way to build a better world for the generations to come.

We’re reminded in John’s first epistle that God is love, and that perfect love casts out all fear. You don’t have to be a believer to see the wisdom of defaulting to love in a world mired in hate, for hate only breeds more hate. That’s why Jesus asked us to meet hate with love. He wanted us to break the cycle so that we could find the kingdom of God within us and use it to heal a broken world.

And what is the kingdom of God? It’s not about following rules. It’s not about getting a ticket to heaven. It’s simply about being God’s love. As 1 John 4:12 tells us, "No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." If we love, we not only become like God, but we fulfill his love. He works through us to love his creation.  

So as we begin our journey to Christmas, let’s do our best to cast aside our fears and put our faith in the transforming power of love. Like Mary, let us strive to birth the love of God into the world.

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