These days, fear has been a close relative of mine. It seems so stupid, really. I know better. But I’ve been afraid more than usual. And get this: we even have a sign in our front yard that says “We are not afraid” (of taking refugees). And yet, during this season of Advent, I’ve caught my mind wandering into dark scenarios. Just a few Sundays ago, following a mass shooting, I stood on the platform of our church and scanned the good folks sitting in the pews. Just before reading the Call to Worship, I had a gripping thought. What if someone walks into this place with a gun? I knew my thoughts were not from the Spirit, and I knew it was ridiculous, but I still entertained the thought for a brief moment in time.
These days, it seems that fear has settled deeply into our bones.
Laura D. Miller, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, speaks on how mass shootings are having an effect on Americans on a daily basis.
…When people can no longer presume relative safety on a daily basis, they may relate differently to others internally, become numb, or become preoccupied with preparing themselves for survival. Survival and self-protection are healthy natural instincts, but most of the time in non-traumatic lives they are not called on daily because they make it so difficult to be present for the other aspects of life and keep the mind/body in a hyper-sensitive state.
It’s not just mass shootings, but we can add police brutality, terrorism, refugees, war, and gun violence to the list. As a result, fear and confusion are thick in the air. Fear, of course, is a natural instinct hardwired in our bodies. Sometimes, we can’t help it. Sometimes, fear might be the most appropriate response in a terrible situation. But when fear becomes the primary banner in which we choose to lead with and relate to one another, it becomes increasingly more difficult to love our neighbors. Leading with fear can cause strife, division, racism, paranoia, and hatred. When we lead with fear, practicing hospitality, generosity, reconciliation, and community are hindered. When we choose to respond to our brother or sister out of fear over and against love, we are not responding to the Spirit of Love. A Christian community in perpetual fear is a community that fails to comprehend the love of God. A Christian community in perpetual fear is a community that fails to comprehend the love of God. Click To Tweet
You see, as John reminds us, fear and love are mutually exclusive. He writes,
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 Jn. 4:18)
This last Sunday we lit the 4th candle on the Advent wreath; we lit the candle of love. Soon we will light the Christ candle. And it is in this season that we especially look to the generous love of God expressed in Christ. God’s love is at the very core of God’s character; it is at the very core of our existence, and it has lavishly been expressed in the life of the Baby in the manger. This is the same Baby who grew up to live a generous, hospitable, sacrificial, and selfless life – all marked by love. Therefore, anyone who has ever experienced or known the unequivocal love of God knows the result that follows – a generous, hospitable, sacrificial, and selfless neighborly love. In fact, this kind of love that John is so obsessed with in his First Epistle is a love that goes beyond perception or emotion; rather, it is a love that is expressed through the people of God. Therefore, even in times of despair, suffering, trauma, and terror, love is the mark of the Christian community, not fear.
Fear draws hard lines in the sand; love is hospitable.
Fear paralyzes; love empowers.
Fear punishes; love forgives.
Fear hoards; love is generous.
Fear excludes; love includes.
Fear hurts our neighbors; love heals our neighbors. Fear seeks to control or coerce; love seeks to serve. Click To Tweet
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our story has an ending, and I think you and I know how it ends. Therefore, we need not be afraid. Instead, we choose love as our banner. So let’s wave our banner of love; let’s declare it, proclaim it, and sing it from the rooftops! Fear no longer needs to be our song; instead, love is our sonnet.