Full disclosure. I have a love/hate relationship with politics. I’m an old political science major and truth be told, I’m as political as the next guy and probably more so. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. My first political memory goes back to the Kennedy/Nixon election in 1960. I was all of nine years old.
But, I hate what politics has become. Coming of age in the 60s and 70s with the Vietnam war raging, I remember well what a divided country was like. It wasn’t pretty. And politics today isn’t pretty either. We live in an age of rage. Regardless of which side you’re on, politics today has degenerated to the spewing of two things: hate and fear. Which is why, despite my own deep political roots, I never have and never will preach politics from the pulpit.
With all the hate and fear swirling around us today, it is a true honor and privilege to be able to proclaim the Gospel every Sunday. “Gospel” literally means “Good News.” I believe that the church and the Good News we make known is the hope of the world.
But I understand not everyone thinks the same way. I know there are probably anti-church, anti-religious folks reading this who see the church today as the main culprit in promoting hate and fear. Obviously, I don’t agree.
I fervently believe the Scriptures clearly teach us not to hate and not to fear. The words, “Do not be afraid,” appear over seventy times in the Bible – all the way from Genesis to Revelation. My Sunday messages the last four weeks have focused on what the Bible says to us about living by faith rather than fear. We need this because so often we come to hate what we fear.
Credit to Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church for offering some good teaching on what the Christmas Story (of all things) teaches us about dealing with different fears in our life. Today, we normally think of that first Christmas as a joyful time, but for many of those involved in it, it was a time of great fear. We can learn a great deal from how the two main characters, Mary and Joseph, deal with the fears they faced.
The story starts with Mary getting a surprise visit from an angel of the Lord. The angel tells her she is going to become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God. Apart from the fear of seeing the angel, Mary would have had other fears. She had to wonder if she would be up to the task of playing a part in God’s plan to redeem the world. Mary faced the fear of inadequacy. What if it turned out that raising the Messiah was more than she could handle?
Mary deals with this fear of inadequacy by surrendering her life to God. She lives for something bigger than herself and trusts in God’s strength and goodness rather than her own abilities. We can deal with our own fears of inadequacy the same way. We can trust God who is up to any task. We can rely on God’s strength and power. The Bible assures us, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Joseph has his own special fear to face. Living in a small town and being engaged to an unwed mother would bring great shame. Joseph faced the fear of disapproval. How could he ever explain Mary’s pregnancy to friends and family? It’s a no-win situation for him and he decides to break off the engagement.
But an angel also appears to him and tells him, “Do not be afraid.” So, Joseph decides to not listen to those voices of fear. He decides to trust God. If he had listened to the voices of fear surrounding him and within him, he would have missed out on the greatest blessing of his life.
What we see from this story is that fear is a communicable disease. It is highly contagious. This truth applies every bit as much to us today as it did to those first participants in the Christmas story. We also face fears of inadequacy, and disapproval. We can deal with those fears like Mary and Joseph.
Like Mary, we can overcome our fear of inadequacy by surrendering our life to God. Like Joseph, we can refuse to listen to voices of fear. We can turn off the fear spewed by cable news and social media. We can surround ourselves with people of faith instead of fearful people. As faith increases there is less room in our lives for fear and hate. Who knows, this might even lead to respectful political dialog? Anything is possible with God.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.