We Need Advent!
I have one great fear in life and many, many smaller fears. I am terrified of flying. I fear the loss of control that I feel as soon as I walk onto an airplane. I fear the small chance of crash every take off and landing. These fears are huge for me and, in the past, have been almost debilitating.
And yet, I love to travel, to see new places, to meet new people, to learn history, to feel the presence of God in places I have never been. Indeed, I know that I am called to visit places I have never been and meet people that I have never seen. This is something that I know to be part of my life.
I first got on a plane when I was 19 and my college choir was on our way to sing in Europe. I remember being excited, yet a little apprehensive. It was a long flight for the first time on a plane. I don’t remember any problems, but even with that first flight I started to have feelings of fear and when it came time to fly home I was even more apprehensive, dreaded it for days, and was so glad when we landed.
At the end of my senior year in college, my choir went back again to sing in the British Isles. I never told anyone this, but I chose not to go because it would require flying. And I missed out on a wonderful experience.
During my seminary days I had the opportunity to travel again and despite my fear and apprehension I jumped at the chance to spend weeks in Kenya, India and Pakistan. I knew ahead of time that the flight from New York to Kenya would be long and require many, many hours of flight time, but I also felt that it was something that God wanted me to do, so I felt that I would be ok, even though the anxiety was still there.
On that trip, my flight anxiety increased on one particular flight in Pakistan. We were flying on a small plane to a very remote area to visit Afghanistan refugee camps. The plane was very old. The seats on the plane were in one row—18 of them shoved as close together in that row as possible. There were 17 of us. The flight was harsh and rough and when we landed the tarmac had four men, at four corners, all holding semi-automatic rifles. I did not feel safe.
While that trip was a life-changing trip for me, one where I heard my calling to ministry clearly, it was also an experience that solidified my fear and for 30 years I allowed that fear to keep me grounded, flying only once during that time and being fearful the entire way.
There are not enough words for me to write that would convey the fear I have of flying. It is something that has altered the quality of my life. It has caused me to miss out on, what I know to be important moments in my life. And yet, in the last 18 months, I have found myself traveling outside the country twice. My flight anxiety is still very much a part of me, but I have found a way to deal with it and to push through it so that I can travel as I know that I am called to do.
This week, this second week of Advent, I find myself thinking about fear. FEAR. It is something that we all have in one way or another and it is something that can control us. Advent calls us to face our fears, to acknowledge them, and to work toward releasing them.
Come thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free
From our FEARS and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee.
–Charles Wesley from the Advent Hymn, Come Thou Long-expected Jesus
There is such fear in our world today. There was such fear in the world when the ancient prophets spoke about the coming of the Messiah, the one who would set us free from our fears. But the prophets didn’t think that this one act of the coming of the Messiah would clear fear away from the earth forevermore. Inherent in their proclamations was the idea that the Messiah would give courage, strength, wisdom, grace, and love for us to act against the injustices of the world that bring fear to our hearts.
As I have watched and agonized over the news the last few weeks, indeed months, I find myself feeling the fear that has been loosed in this world. The disturbing thing that I find is that people everywhere, Christians included and maybe especially, have been responding to this fear and these events with back lashes of hatred and revenge. Suddenly, we find that the words of the One whose birth we await at this time of the year have been forgotten: Love your enemy, pray for those who persecute, do to others as you would have them do to you.
We have forgotten that the One who came to us in the form of a small child, who grew and lived among us, also suffered from frightening terrifying conditions, indeed from terrorists situations, and still instructed us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison as if each person suffering is Jesus himself. He instructed us to forgive freely and extravagantly.
This year, more than ever, we need Advent. WE NEED ADVENT! We need this time to quietly, silently, deeply face our fears—our personal fears that often stay hidden from even ourselves and the fears we have for this world. We need this time to really think about what the coming of this Holy Child means for our lives because the arrival of this Holy One in our lives means our lives must be transformed.
When the long-expected Jesus comes and releases us from our FEARS and sins, we cannot, we will not be the same. Something in us and the way we live must change.
I invite you to delve deeply into Advent this season, to face your fears and allow the Holy Child of Bethlehem to release those fears. I invite you to do this for your own peace and healing and for the peace and healing of this world.
To God alone be glory!