If you and I knew everything that the year 2013 held in store for us, staying locked inside our home might appeal to us. While most look forward to another year - a time, once again, to promise to lose those extra pounds and get into shape - what if we knew that 2013 came as our last year of life? What if we knew all the scary, painful, or end-of-life events lying ahead this year? Would we allow fear to force us into seclusion, prompting us to take a trip to the lumber yard, buy a dozen two-by-fours, a box of nails, and a hammer to safely barricade us inside and keep the bad stuff outside? I must say that as a pastor, people sometimes ask me questions about their future, like, "What is God's plan for me?" And at times, I wonder, "How would the New Testament read if Jesus knew his future and his life's end - crucifixion? Would he still decide that restoring Israel and reconnecting lost souls to God equaled the price?"
After all my years of biblical study, contemplation, and prayer, I confess that, by all appearances, fear never impeded Jesus. Like his bold God, Jesus waded fearlessly into some pretty heated and dangerous arguments with religious and military authorities. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus pleaded with God, asking God to remove his cup of woe. Yet, Jesus felt intense sorrow - not fear.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States, once said in his Inaugural Address on March 4, 1933, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He declared this almost exactly eighty years ago, give or take a couple of months. In 1933, after the Wall Street Crash and as World War II loomed on the horizon, Americans feared. The White House hoped to restore confidence and hope, telling the nation that fear of the future need not impede living satisfying lives. It mattered to millions then; and, it matters to millions now.
In fact, addressing fear then and now must continue. Out of endless lists of enemies, fear frequently triumphs as the most powerful enemy compared to the rest. Fear bores into us like no other emotion. It spawns paranoia, feeling victimized, jealousy, and violence. As a former registered nurse, one day I watched how fear triggered sweat to pour from a colleague's face as we worked together during a high-stress, dangerous hospital crisis, when a crazed, homicidal patient threatened to take our lives with rather pointed wooden spikes. Should fear enjoy such power? Why should fear bring my life or anyone's life to a halt?
I say, let fear not rule 2013.
All through Christmas we hear, "Fear not." Angels tell terrified shepherds, "Do not be afraid" (Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2 verse 10, Revised Standard Version). In more than a few biblical stories we find heavenly beings and even God saying, "Fear not, for I am with you." Many know the 23rd Psalm by heart, including the verse, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me" (King James Version). In Isaiah Chapter 41 verse 10 we hear: "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, and I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (English Standard Version). All through biblical literature, God's people get the message not to be afraid.
So ... while 2013 probably includes more than a few hair-raising episodes in store for you and me, I choose not to fear. I accept life as it comes, feeling safe during the good times, but, also, taking time to ponder my life's meaning during the more fearful times. During this New Year, when I feel fear creeping up on me, a dose of the Christmas Story in Chapter 2 of Luke, the 23rd Psalm, or verses from Isaiah might prove to be the cure. And if a former famous United States President, angels, Jesus, and even God proclaim, "Fear not," who am I to disagree?
Have a happy and fearless New Year.
Pastor Tom came from Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah to Cortez, where he pastors First United Methodist Church. He's a graduate of Eden Theological Seminary and Johns Hopkins University.