Advent Devotions: A Healing confrontation with fear

Advent 2015. Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).      

By Rev. J. Bentley Stewart 

Zephaniah 3:14-20

I was invited to reflect on Zephaniah days after the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Bamako. In the subsequent weeks there have been mass shootings in Colorado Springs and San Bernardino. I am feeling the weight of horrors that humans deploy upon one another. Terrorism colors my reading of the phrase “you will no longer fear evil.” And, it sounds like wishful thinking.

As a hospital chaplain, I’ve had numerous conversations teasing out hope from wishful thinking. One has to listen deeply to distinguish the two. While they often sound similar, they are profoundly different. Saint Augustine disagreed with Paul and called hope the greatest of these. To paraphrase the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., hope gives us the vitality that helps us to move on in spite of it all. In contrast, wishful thinking fixates on desired outcomes while refusing to consider contradicting facts.

Hope has the courage to face reality as it is and see past it towards the horizon of what might be. Wishful thinking colludes with denial to anesthetize our fear by distracting us from the reality of our vulnerability.

Currently, some of our leaders are succumbing to wishful thinking. For far too many, Islamophobia and immigrant bashing have become seductive methods to keep awareness of our vulnerability at bay by promising the escapist fantasy of security and a world with no more fear.

We people of faith must be courageous as we proclaim that love risks being vulnerable to one another and that fear of the other is an assent to the demonic. We must remember our baptism. Rachel Held Evans claims that in this sacrament we remember that “we are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love.”

It is in our vulnerability that we discover our interdependence. We hold one another up to face together (con fronte) our fears.

May this Advent awaken us to the truth that our healing can only be found in and through one another. May we awaken to the healing that the Holy One is giving birth to in our midst.  

Rev. J. Bentley Stewart is a chaplain at UCSF Health and a 2015 graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary.

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