fear of becoming a victim of bigotry, hatred and violence among ethnic or religious minority groups in countries like India; or simply fear of natural disasters, like hurricanes, floods, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions and the consequences of climate change. The list could continue, indicating a widespread sense of insecurity and powerlessness.
In the midst of this climate of fear and anxiety, we hear once again those ancient words of the angel to the shepherds on the first Christmas night: “Fear not!” (Luke 2:10). The shepherds in the field near Bethlehem were afraid because they encountered the holy and its overwhelming power. In their fear, they understood the fragility of their lives and were confronted with a power beyond their control that could either destroy them or save them. But they also remind us that fear is not a sign of human weakness to be concealed. In the emotion of fear, we anticipate a potential danger or threat and mobilize possible defenses.
We need not be ashamed of our fears: they remind us that we are human creatures and not God. The instinctive natural response to fear is to seek protection and security, to draw closer to one another. The solidarity of fear can mobilize people into action. It can also cause them to follow blindly those who offer or promise security. But how to protect ourselves from those who exploit our fears for their own interests and deliberately disempower us? How can we break the vicious circle, in which the very search for security becomes itself the source of increased fear and security measures become ends in themselves, holding us hostage to our fears? Christmas invites us to take our fears to a God who does not want to remain an unapproachable or awe-inspiring holy other.
God knows our human fears, but God wants to take them away by calling out to us, as to the shepherds through the words of the angel: “Fear not!” God does not offer us security, but utterly vulnerable love in the child of Bethlehem. It is the love of “God with us” that can cast out fear (1 John 4:18) and liberate us from the idolatry of security. This is also the thrust of the Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence. For, as the Apostle Paul says: “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38f).
Posted Dec. 20, 2002
Konrad Raiser, is General Secretary, World Council of Churches.
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