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Dec. 17—”Fear Not”

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Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,

Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you news of great joy for all the people…Luke 2:10

Our contemporary environment is fearful—that is “fear-full.” We are constantly bombarded by scare messages. It’s relentless. Just today (I’m writing on Friday, December 17), as we approach the last Sunday of Advent and begin to turn our eyes toward Christmas and the birth anew of Jesus Christ into our world and into our lives, it was reported across all news media that today had been singled out as a day when there would multiple school shootings.[1] Of course, people panicked. Some schools closed for the day. Law enforcement agencies across the country, including the F.B.I., issued statements assuring the public that they were taking all precautions but also indicated that there was no evidence of any “credible threat.” Apparently, this all originated with the social media site TikTok but it spread like wildfire, as so many frightening things do on social media. No doubt the energy for this particular fear-full rumor was fueled by the recent, tragic school shooting in Oxford, Michigan and by the sober ninth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting earlier this week. It took hold because, disturbingly in our society today, such a thing is not beyond or imagination. Fear!

Fear stalks us. I recently underwent a low-dose lung scan. I had smoked a lot when I was younger and worked in smoke-filled bars for many years. I smoked two or three packs of cigarettes a day. My dad—a one-time heavy smoker—died of lung cancer when he was 69 (having quit more than 10 years before). My aunt, his older sister, died of lung cancer just a year or so before him. She, too, had been a heavy smoker. Lung cancer, the number one cause of cancer deaths in the world, runs in my family. I elected to get a lung screening as a precaution, to be safe, to check it out. Fear.

Fortunately, my screening revealed no evidence of lung cancer, though there was some minor evidence of emphysema, likely caused by my smoking history. My dad had more severe emphysema years before he was diagnosed with lung cancer. More fear. I’m not alone. People live with these kinds of fears all the time. In our COVID19 world most of us are walking around with some level of fear about contracting the disease.

Several years ago, well known author, lecturer, podcaster and therapist Brené Brown was being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and they were discussing fear. Oprah Winfrey remembered a time when another popular author and self-help figure, Marianne Williamson, was on her show discussing fear as well. Oprah Winfrey recalled, “All the men in the audience were like, ‘Well, I ain’t afraid of nothing. I ain’t scared of nobody. I ain’t scared of nothing,'” Ms. Winfrey expressed her own view, observing, “I think people don’t understand that anxiety is fear. Jealousy is fear. Greed is fear. All of those are elements of a fear-based culture.”

Brené Brown picked up the theme saying, “Eating is fear. Drinking is fear. Drugs are fear. Rage is fear.” She continued, “I drive by big trucks sometimes in Texas and they have that sticker on the back that says, ‘Ain’t Scared’ or something, and I think, Love and light to you. You’re in so much fear. Because when you put ‘Ain’t Scared’ on your car, you’re scared.” Brown concluded, “We’re all afraid. We just have to get to the point where we understand it doesn’t mean that we can’t also be brave.”[2]

As people of faith, we have a rock solid resource for bravery—our belief and faith in Jesus Christ. “Fear not!” the angel said to the shepherds abiding in the field. “I bring you news of great joy which shall be to all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find the child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Trappist Monk and writer Thomas Merton has written, “God has emptied Himself and come to us as a child, in order that we who not been saved by fear, but only destroyed by it, may now take heart and be saved by confidence.”[3]

As we bring this Advent season to a close, I pray we will all look to the coming light of Christ with confidence knowing that this coming is not merely the remembrance of some long-ago event. The news of great joy, the birth of Christ happens now, for us, today. As Thomas Merton so rightly affirms, “At Christmas, more than ever, it is fitting to remember that we have no other light but Christ, Who is born to us today. Let us reflect that He came down from heaven to be our light, and our life.”[4]

Our King and Savior now draws near: O come let us adore him. (B.C.P. p. 80).

Blessings and peace,

Bishop Stokes's SignatureThe Right Rev. William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jessey

_______________

Notes

[1] There were numerous reports in mainstream media. See, for example Campoamor, Danielle “Schools, law enforcement warn of Dec. 17 school shooting ‘trend’ on TikTok” on the Today Show website – December 16, 2021 found at https://www.today.com/parents/parents/schools-law-enforcement-warn-dec-17-school-shooting-trend-tiktok-rcna9092

[2] See Podrazik, Joan “What is Fear?” published on Huff Post April 8, 2013 found at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-is-fear-dr-brene-brown-and-oprah_n_2876633

[3] Merton, Thomas – “The Nativity Kerygma” from Seasons of Celebration (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965) kindle location 1334.

[4] Merton, op.cit. Kindle location 1284.