Be Not Afraid

screenshot2016-11-09at10-05-31amLast night I delivered a short homily to my college’s choir before our first performance of the annual Christmas festival. This is the full transcript of that.

The Lord be with you! Therefore: let us not fear — that’s this year’s theme, right? Fear not. Easy.

Personally, when someone tells me not to be afraid, I admit it’s not actually very helpful. It feels almost dismissive, like they’re unwilling to take my fear seriously. I am afraid of a lot of things — spiders, dead things, peanut products — or on a more serious note, I am afraid of failure… of loneliness… of my uncertain future.

Some fears keep us alive. Some fears keep us from living.

We’re all deeply afraid of something, so “fear not” can sound like an impossible task — as if it’s some sort of rule we’re expected to follow. And as someone who suffers from anxiety, I tend to think this way a lot. But sometimes we need to be reminded that these are words of comfort.

This is God’s promise to us:

When you walk through the waters, I’ll be with you;
you will never sink beneath the waves.
When the fire is burning all around you,
you will never be consumed by the flames.

When the fear of loneliness is looming,
then remember I am at your side.
When you dwell in the exile of a stranger,
remember you are precious in My eyes.
(Excerpted from Philip Stopford’s “Do Not Be Afraid”)

It’s not a matter of if we face fear, but when. And when that time comes, how will we respond? It’s unrealistic to assume we can will our fear away — in fact, I think that’s dishonest.

Rather, “fear not” isn’t the end of it. Listen to the words of Joshua 1:9…

I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for YHWH your God is with you wherever you go.

“Fear not, for I am with you”. Therefore, be bold.

All of us are afraid of something, whether it’s of making a huge, life-changing decision, or of coming in fortissimo on page 2 of Virga Jesse. But I encourage you not simply to “fear not”, but to own that fear. Face it head-on, for you are not alone. God is with you and for you. All of us are with you and for you. Be strong and courageous — so boldly we pray:

O branch of Jesse, You have blossomed in fullness of both divinity and humanity, restoring peace and reconciling in Yourself the lowest with the highest.

Tonight, as we rejoice and sing on behalf of Your people, remind us that You are with us wherever we go, whether in the valley of the shadow of death, or in the candlelit glow of a Presbyterian church.

Lord, help us to not be afraid; help us to be bold,
for You have redeemed us,
You have called us by our names.
We are Yours,
we are Yours,
we are Yours.

Amen.

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A Light unto the Nations

I serve as a chaplain for my college’s choir, and I was asked to give a short homily before the dress rehearsal of our annual Christmas festival. This is a transcript of the message I gave earlier tonight.

11thAnnualxmasfestival

Let me read you all a quote from the great composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein:

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

Yesterday the United States were struck by tragedy once again: mass shootings in Savannah, GA and San Bernardino, CA. This disturbs us, and rightfully so — but it doesn’t surprise us.

According to a mass shooting tracker on Reddit, defining a “mass shooting” as one that injures/kills 4 or more people, this brings our tally for the year up to 355.

I’ll let you do the math.

In times like this it can be especially hard to see the good in the world. These are just tragedies that made the headlines; how much more suffering goes on that we don’t hear about?

Sometimes it’s easier to offer an obligatory prayer and move on with our lives — we don’t always have the emotional capacity to deal with all of it, and we know it goes on all the time. We’d just prefer not to think about it — I know at least I’m guilty of this.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned this past year, it’s that we can’t run from grief. We can’t leave our problems at the door and put on our happy faces while we worship. We can’t conquer our pain unless we face it.

There is good news here. We are not alone.

Tonight we celebrate the coming of the God who didn’t run from His people’s pain, instead taking on human flesh and sharing in it — feeling it, bearing it, and taking it for us.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of humanity. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
– John 1:4-5

This is the God of every cell and every galaxy, who redeems the world, and in His love deigns to receive our supplication.

O Light born of Light,
Jesus, redeemer of the world,
with lovingkindness deign to receive
suppliant praise and prayer.

Thou who once deigned to be clothed in flesh
for the sake of the lost,
grant us to be members
of thy blessed body.
– Ancient Latin text, “O nata lux”

So keep praying. But after you’ve done that, act.

God didn’t call us out of the darkness just so we could spend our lives avoiding it. That pain, that anxiety, that sorrow — we all have bits of brokenness with us today, and I want to encourage us to be honest and vulnerable with it. My hope is that when we’re here, surrounded by our brothers and sisters, we can let our walls down and really come to the cross together, casting our cares on Him, for He cares for us — for you.

Because when we let God shine in our darkness, He lets us shine in the darkness — to be a light unto the nations.

So tonight, when we sing, play instruments, carry candles, ring bells, or whatever, I hope we aren’t putting on our happy faces and doing it just because we have to. I hope we’re doing it to follow the example of Jesus Christ — walking headfirst into the darkness so that we can bring Light to it; celebrating our Lord’s First Coming, and looking forward to His Second Coming, when the Light indeed wins.

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.