Fourth Sunday of Advent 19 December 2010
(Isaiah 7:10-16 Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1: 18-25)
“Living beyond our Fears!”
I know a woman, probably in her late 60s, whose husband was in the hospital in very poor health. His wife, who had spent long hours at the hospital, went home to get a shower and have lunch, with the intention of returning to the hospital in a few hours. The husband took a sudden turn for the worse, and the doctors called his wife, leaving message for her to come to the hospital immediately. She came out of the shower and when she saw the light blinking on the phone, pressed the wrong button, and by accident deleted the message from the doctor before she heard it. She never got to the hospital in time and her husband died alone. Since that day two years ago, she has lived in fear of deleting a critical phone message, leaving her phone mailbox full, with no intention of deleting anything ever again. This fear had taken total control of her life.
What are the fears that control our lives?
Maybe it is the fear of being alone when my spouse leaves me. Is the fear of dying too soon when the doctor finds a spot on my lung? Is it the lump I feel on my breast? It may be the unknown when my PSA jumps 15 numbers since my last check-up. Is it the fear of being left out; the fear of being ridiculed; the fear of intimacy; the fear of not being loved; the fear of not getting into the “right” school or the “right” group; the fear of rejection; of shame; the fear of dementia, of pain, of bankruptcy; the fear of losing my child; of my child not coming home again; the fear of my spouse never coming back from Afghanistan.
We all, every one of us, hold many fears close to our hearts, some we never give voice to; very often our fears feel like a great dark storm cloud hovering over our lives, stifling us, holding us back, paralyzing us from the life waiting for us.
In the days and weeks leading up to my wedding I began to realize several fears that felt as if they were threatening me. These fears had to do with me, not my wife Lois. I had just made some major choices and decisions in my life. I felt like I was being led in an entirely different direction at the age of 37 and there were lots of fears associated with those choices, especially fear of so many unknowns. I remember talking with a spiritual mentor and sharing these fears with him and he said, “Mike, every marriage contains the seeds of its own destruction.” I remember those words not being very comforting at that time, but I now realize the seeds of fear are all around us.
I am told that each one of us holds within our bodies enough germs to destroy a thousand armies.
Our culture perpetuates fear. “Breaking news” flashes across the bottom of the TV screen, most of the time, not good news. Lots of people make lots of money on fear. Fear compels us to respond.
Religion uses fear. I haven’t been that way for awhile but, there used to be a billboard on I-78 heading toward NJ: two roads come together and it says: “You will meet God!”
Fear pulls us from the present—sometimes into our past, often into the future. So we are no longer able to be present to what is at hand. We’re no longer present to who is with us.
This Tuesday the Winter Solstice will take place at 6:38PM, marking the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. The winter solstice marks the longest night of the year, where in one 24-hour period we have more darkness than any other time in the entire year. That’s how it feels in some lives.
Most often, fear feels like darkness—like hovering, controlling, paralyzing darkness.
Joseph and Mary had to be stunned with similar fear when the angel tells them they were pregnant. They were engaged, but they had not lived together. Pregnant! That was not a good word at that time! Those words created fell like a deafening panic to their ears. It meant a time for disgrace, for both of them. The law was clear that a woman could be stoned to death for being engaged to one man and getting pregnant by another man. Their good family name would be destroyed. This would change everything in their lives for the rest of their lives. Their life together was over. Their love gone!
And then as the dreams of this young couple crumble before their very eyes, another dream takes its place. An angel appears to reassure them: “Do not be afraid!” This child is Emmanuel, “God-with-us!”
Fear is real, yet when we hear the angel say to Joseph, “Be not afraid.” It does not mean “pretend you’re not afraid.” I think it means more something like, “Don’t let the fear control you; don’t allow the fear to become your identity.” God is present in a way least expected. Live beyond your fear; know that fear can draw us to the center; fear can actually draw us to God, not by means of an angel, but certainly, by faith. To believe the Prophecy of Isaiah is to believe there is light and life being born beyond these fears—God-with-us!
Here’s an image that speaks volumes to me.
You know, when a hurricane is coming the animals go deeper into the forest; the fish go deeper into the ocean. Going deeper—what a powerful image!
When storms come into our lives and with the storms come fears, that’s when we go deeper—into ourselves to the Hope that lies deep within—to the Light that is to be found in the midst of the darkness, to a faith that will sustain us, to the God who is to be found in the midst of the fear.
At the beginning of this final week of Advent, it is a week when we experience the longest, darkest night of the year; yet, we know by week’s end, “God-with-us” is getting pretty itchy to shatter the darkness of a waiting and weary world. God comes into our fears, not to pretend they are not there, not even always to take them away, but rather, to assure us that life still happens. Amen.