Our Response to Fear
Rev. Daniel Romero
Conference Minister, Southern California/Nevada Conference
Los Angeles Filipino-American UCC
December 24, 2006
Text: Luke 2: 8-12
Let me take this opportunity on behalf of the Southern California/Nevada Conference to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and our hope that this congregation will be able to fulfill its many dreams and visions for 2007. We have a strong and vital church, one that, in my opinion, has a great opportunity and the ingredients to expand and grow in this community.
In the gospel of Luke we find the familiar words from the angel announcing the birth of Jesus “Do not be afraid for I bring you good news of great joy for all people; to you is born in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Now it was customary in early Biblical times for people to have dreams and see visions about the future. It was also a way in which those who wrote the gospels could explain how certain things happened and how God communicated with his people. For these shepherds however the appearance of an angel was definitely frightening. A colleague of mine reported in an article she wrote recently that the word “afraid” appears more than 150 times in the Bible. You will remember how often Jesus said to his disciples and followers: “Do Not Fear”.
Fear is an emotion that we have all experienced. Children do not know to be afraid and if their parents were not there to guide them, they would easily be harmed.
As we grow older, fear is a reality that governs the way we approach life itself. We become conditioned to fear the unfamiliar or uncertain. There are different types of psychological fear….one can be afraid of heights, or afraid of flying or being in enclosed areas. These are phobias that often restrict certain things that people are willing to do or not do. When I was young I was not willing to get onto roller coasters for example. I never to this day see the fun in scaring yourself to death and yet millions of people love riding things that are fast and furious.
At another level fear also builds barriers among people or groups of people. We are conditioned when we grow up to fear certain people because they are different. Racism, and homophobia in particular, are examples of a fear that can govern our relationships with people and how we view the world. These fears are often cultural, they are taught to us, we are not born with prejudices but the society at large dictates the norms that will govern our social relationships. When you are young, you don’t want to be categorized by your size, your ethnicity or background or be seen with certain people that may prejudice your peers against you. It is no different with adults.
There are acceptable social groupings in our society, based on economics, positions that people hold in the workplace, fame and power. Fear of not fitting in permeates our lives. And yet the faith which we profess, witnesses to an openness and celebration of diversity and challenges us to break down barriers of all kinds. That is what Jesus birth is all about.
Moving from the personal level of fear to a more collective, societal fear: We are part of a nation that has been stunned into fear by the 9/11 attack on the world trade center. We are therefore a very vulnerable people that feel a need to be protected.
The Herod who was ruling the area on behalf of the Romans certainly had enough power and control that being “afraid” because a child was born would be non threatening. The fear that Herod felt was somehow transferred to the population of Jerusalem. King Herod had heard all the talk about the coming of a Messiah and we know by reading scripture that one of the response’s to this fear is that Herod had every first born male put to death and so Mary and Joseph escaped to Egypt. Herod was obviously very threatened by the thought that a Messiah would liberate the Jewish people. He of course was thinking in political terms….that a grown Jesus would be the impetus for a revolution against the Roman government and had good reason to want to squash the movement. In current times, we would call what Herod did responding to national security concerns, to possible terrorist threats against the Roman empire. There is no biblical evidence that anyone raised objections to this massacre of innocent children. Probably not a peep out of anyone except those whose children were being murdered.
There are various concerns for Christians in all of this.
First of all from a personal standpoint, we are people of faith not fear. If we believe that God is indeed a God of love and justice, then we need to trust God with our lives. We must make decisions and live our lives with faith and not fear. I am not speaking of a reckless faith or a naïve belief that God will take care of everything and all will be well. We know that that is not case. We know that life is full of the good and the bad…but our ultimate security and well being is not in things of this world, but in nurturing a deep spirituality that can help direct the moral choices that we make in everyday life. The daily decisions we are asked to make are usually not black and white but often ambiguities that are perplexing and scary and if we have no anchor, we will find ourselves floating adrift on the turbulent seas of life, easily manipulated by anyone who might be pursing their own agenda or cause.
Secondly, we are part of a community of faith and do not live in isolation. The church is a global community ---a safe and open place where we help each other discern the work of God’s spirit in our lives. There is story after story of courageous people who live in faith such as Jenifer Estess who had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1997….a slow condition which attacks the cells that control the muscles.
It is named after a famous baseball player named Lou Gehrig who contracted the disease as well. It is a terminal illness for which there is no cure. The current Vice Moderator of our Conference was recently diagnosed with this disease so it has become rather personal.
Rather than live in fear, Jenifer decided that her eventual death would not restrict her life. She is quoted as having said: “once you conquer the fear of losing your life, a lot more opens up. I can still speak. And while I can I’ll make sure no one else has to hear that there is no hope and no cure. That’s absolutely unacceptable.” And so along with her sisters she established Project ALS to raise money for research to find a cure for this disease. She lived with faith, not fear. She raised over $17 million until her death on Dec. 16, 2004. There was a similar story with Christopher Reeves who was paralyzed after a horse riding accident whose fame permitted him to publicly work for a cure to spinal injuries. He lived with faith not fear. “Yeah though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me,” writes the Psalmist.
Jesus consistently stood with the marginalized and oppressed. Throughout our Biblical history, the stranger has been a particular concern of the early Hebrew community and Christian community. Jesus and his family were foreigners in strange lands. Foreign workers are the most vulnerable people in every society because they have no power to protect them from abuse. Building walls at the border is not going to make us feel any more secure and less afraid. And so rather than join in the throngs that would have us overreact to the fears that we have as a people, we need to turn those fears into creative energy to share the good news of Christ’s birth…of love and life in which we will find our genuine security.
May God grant us the wisdom and courage to act upon our faith and not our fears in the journeys of life that lay before us and may God bless us so that we can become a blessing to others.