What Am I Afraid Of? Learning to Release Anger

What does it feel like to live afraid? Afraid of the world? Afraid of people? Afraid of the pandemic? Afraid of politics? Afraid of conflict over anything and everything? What does it feel like to lose friendships that are special to you? What does it feel like to feel as if you’ve failed at the very thing God called you to do in your life?

I recently asked a wise friend, “Why am I angry all the time?”  His response shocked me. He said, “Anger and fear cannot share the same space. None of us like to be afraid and so we fill those spaces with anger – it pushes the fear away.”  He then asked, “John, what are you afraid of?”

Unfortunately, there are a lot of answers to that question. If I want to resist anger and not let it take up so much space in me, I must confront the very things I am afraid of. I can honestly say (whether I am blind to this or not) that I have never lived my life afraid. But over the past 20 months, there have been many things that I fear. I am afraid of losing friendships. I am afraid of losing church members. I am afraid of being ill-equipped. I am afraid of failing.  But here is the rub: It is true that if I lose these things, it will hurt deeply. But loss and pain are not the end of life in Christ. As a matter of fact, Christ taught us that loss, suffering, pain, and even death are not the end. I may be afraid, but the loss of these things does not mean the end of life in Jesus.

So, I am giving some space to my fears…not so they have power over me or so that they debilitate me…but so that I can remember that I can be afraid, and trust that God’s got this. I’m ready to be done with anger.  Maybe you are as well. But we must first acknowledge we are afraid.  I’m finding that as I do this, I can hear God’s words about fear in a new way.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” – Psalm 46:1-3

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – Luke 14:27

“He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” – Psalm 91:4-5

Love and Hate

Luke 2:25-35

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Love and hate are intimately linked within the human brain, according to a study by Professor Semir Zeki of University College London. Zeki studied the brains of people who profess deep hatred towards a person and deep love and here is what he discovered.  When people looked at the images of those they hated, it involved specific areas in the sub-cortex of the brain. One area they already knew was connected to contempt and disgust. But they found these same areas of the brain were involved in deep feelings of love. Zeki proposes that this may be connected to the preparation of aggression that may come when you feel someone you love is threatened.  While love and hate are found to be at work in the same area of the brain, there is one interesting difference. Zeki and his research team found that the areas of the brain associated with judgment and reasoning become deactivated during love, whereas very little of the area is deactivated in hate.

Zeki concludes with this hypothesis…love seems to be less critical and less judgmental toward those loved. Hate is more judgmental, more critical, and more calculating…seeking ways to injure, harm, or exact revenge. The other interesting find? Hate could be objectively quantified in the studies. Love could not. There was no way to objectively quantify love.

Zeki could have saved a lot of time if he had just read the New Testament…

Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate the coming of the fullness of love to the world. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son… Christmas is the time we celebrate when love came down from heaven. And this is a season of love. There is something warm and cozy about Christmas. Families gather, meals are shared, we reach out to those who are not with us by phone and Christmas cards.

But as we explore the great paradoxes of Christmas, this week we focus on the second Sunday of Advent’s theme…love. We know that the world Jesus came into was not only a world of love. Just as in Jesus day, we are surrounded by the paradox of a world where God is pouring out His love into a world filled with hate.

The Magi search for the child to pay him homage as a power-hungry king tries desparately to keep power by slaughtering innocent young children.  The angels announce the birth of the Savior to a poor band of shepherds.  Joseph and Mary receive news of the miraculous birth, but their experience is not exactly glorious.  Our world is not different. We see the paradoxes all around us.  Love comes in the midst of a world of hate.  People killing innocent people and calling it faithfulness. People mistrusting those around them and those in authority. We need love more than ever in a world filled with hate.

In today’s passage, we see Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus to the temple as was the custom. Simeon was a righteous and faithful man and very old. God told him he would not die until he laid eyes on the Savior of the world. As Jesus is brought into the temple, Simeon is drawn in and when he lays his eyes on the child, he rejoices! He says, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”  Simeon sees the light of salvation for all people, including the Gentiles. Love has come down.

IF we ended there, that would be enough. But the Bible points us to another paradox…Simeon continues…“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

We see this bitter prophecy played out in the life of Jesus as he confronts the lives and motives of so many.  He called us to examine our inner thoughts as well.  In John 3:19 Jesus says, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Jesus was and is the One who reveals our inner thoughts and calls us to choose light and love over darkness and hate.  We are confronted with this Sign everyday.

The good news is that love has come into the world. But that love will call for a decision from the world. A decision to love in the light…or hate in the darkness.

Hopes and Fears…

Matthew 2:16-18

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:  “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

nativity

Fisher Price Nativity

My kids always loved playing with the Fisher Price nativity set under our Christmas tree.  It was a good way for our kids to understand the story while being able to handle the characters without fear of them showing up broken around the house.  The wise men in the set were always my favorites.  Not only did they show the diversity of the “peoples of the world”, but they all had these sweet smiles on their faces.  They reflected the story of the wise men I grew up hearing about…visiting the home of Jesus with gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.

But just like Christmas cards, the nativity sets don’t tell the whole story…they only reflect the glorious aspects of the birth of Christ.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it leads us to forget the paradox inherent in the season.  The story of the wise men is coupled with the killing of innocent children by Herod in Matthew 2.  Why would Matthew include such graphic and atrocious imagery?  Why do we never really hear or talk about that part of the story?

This is heavy stuff and Christmas is not supposed to be a heavy time.  We work hard at creating ‘winter wonderlands’ and hap-, happiest times of the year for our family, friends and even for ourselves.  But we must remember that Christmas is a season of paradox.  Christmas is a season self-contradiction that expresses the truth that in God comes into a world that is violent, broken, and in desperate need of salvation.  Matthew doesn’t hide this.  Matthew tells the gritty and disturbing parts of the story.  Matthew’s version of the Christmas story isn’t as far fetched as we may like to think.

Emmanuel, God with us, did not just draw near to us in all the good parts of our lives.  God took on our lot and our life – all of it.  He entered into a world of fear, dread and atrocity.  And He continues to enter those parts of our lives.  The good news of the Gospel is this…we do not face this scary world alone.  God is with us.  Even in the midst of a world that is filled with heartache.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Read Matthew 2:1-18 again.  How often have you heard verses 16-18 shared during the Christmas season?  Why do you think we like to steer away from this part of the story?
  • Think about the world we live in now.  What ‘Herods’ do you see around us?  Are there leaders or powers that seek to protect their power?
  • Think about your own life this Christmas season.  Do you find it difficult to be happy in a season that is supposed to be filled with happiness?  Why?
  • Take some time to think about the real, painful aspects of your life.  How does Christ’s birth in a real, gritty, difficult world give you hope and comfort?  Think of ways Christ can be born in your own difficulty and share that with a friend over coffee or lunch.