On June 20, 2012, I wrote one of my most popular blogposts ever. It didn’t go viral, like my “Why I’m grieving election day” post, but over the years, “Fear, not Doubt is the opposite for faith” has had a strong, steady readership. This has become increasingly true over the past few months as average views per day are rising, and I think it may have something to do with Donald Trump and his rhetoric of fear that is resonating with not a few Americans. I suspect that no matter what I write here, my three year-old post on fear will probably be in the top two for today’s statistics.
What causes tens (maybe even hundreds) of thousands of Americans who claim to be disciples of Jesus and guardians of the Constitution to applaud and cheer when Donald Trump suggests that we put a religious test on anyone who would like to enter this country, in order to keep any new Muslims from entering? The answer is as simple as it is condemning, we are, as the Collect for Advent 3 puts it, “sorely hindred by our sins.” This is especially true of our fears. Fear has caused a great many otherwise faithful disciples to give up the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that God loves his whole creation so much that he sent his only Son not to condemn it, but to save every part of it, and instead embrace the false idols of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and hate.
I don’t use that word, idol, lightly. It is a bold claim to suggest that others have chosen to walk in sin. The log in my own eye is huge. My sins are as numerous as the stars in the sky, and I daily seek forgiveness for them. I understand that what I am writing is difficult, and yet, as a Priest of the Church, I say it with conviction because I am confident that fear and hate are the antithesis of the Gospel.
This coming Sunday, Advent 3, is known as Gaudete Sunday, which is Latin for “rejoice.” As the initial darkness of the Advent wreath becomes more than half-light, we pause in the midst of all the busyness, all the stress, all the craziness going on all around us and choose to rejoice in the saving love of God. We hear the words of Paul, calling the disciples in Philippi to give up worry, and with thanksgiving, to make their requests known to God. Advent 3 is one of the rare times when we don’t pray together from the Psalms, but rather we join in the ancient practice of the Canticles, singing other songs from Scripture, songs that have been sung since the first centuries of the Church.
On this particular Sunday, our song will be a bold claim against fear, first made by the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel as the Assyrian army made its slow but steady march toward the south and west:
“Surely, it is God who saves me; * I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, * and he will be my Savior.”
The promise of Isaiah to the people of Israel doesn’t come with closed boarders and anxiety, but in sure faith in the one who created everything that is. Unfortunately for the people of Israel, they too were sorely hindered by fear, and back-room deals by panicked leaders lead to their destruction. As people of faith, we have a choice to make in this increasingly important moment. We can choose to be sorely hindered by our sins, to live in fear, and to make decisions based on maintaining our own self-interests. Or, we can choose to trust in God, to move beyond our fears, and to reach out in love to all who are lost and hurting. Simply put, we can choose to love our neighbors, no matter their color or creed.
Choosing love is risky, even scary at times. It is frightening to give away your extra coat. It is risky to offer to others the food in your pantry. We might get taken advantage of. Under the circumstances, we might even get hurt, but to choose love over fear is to choose the peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace that comes from God alone, a peace that is given as grace, if we could only find it buried beneath the fear in our hearts.
We are sorely hindered by our sins, O Lord, especially our fears. Let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us that we might delight in your loving will and walk in your loving way all the days of our lives.