Since I was young child, I have had a healthy fear of clowns. I don’t know exactly why. I have never, at least to my recollection, had a “bad clown” experience or anything like that. I also know that clowns can be kind and caring, like the clown I once met at the children’s hospital whose mission is only to make patients smile. There is nothing reasonable or rational about my fear, there is just something about clowns that touches a place of fear in me.
I suppose that is what made the practical joke even more effective. A few years ago, while I was travelling for a work meeting, my wife Andra and some of the church staff put a full-sized creepy/scary clown mannequin in my office, sitting in the chair behind my desk. You can imagine my reaction when I turned the lights on and walked in the room. Once over the initial shock, I laughed heartily knowing I had walked into a very good practical joke. The story still holds legendary status in our family.
Our fears, though, are not always laughing matters. They are not always the things of practical jokes. No, they are the things that make our pulse race, that keep us awake at night. Our fears can become all consuming, filling life with worry and anxiety. Our fears can be rational or irrational, minor (like clowns) or major (like cancer). Fear can make us defensive, always on the lookout for danger. Fear can leave us paralyzed afraid to move forward in life for fear of upsetting some delicate balance that has managed to keep our fears at bay.
I have never really thought of fear as an Advent theme until this year. Reading through Advent and Christmas texts from the Bible, I couldn’t help but notice how the birth of Jesus meant both recognizing the presence of fear and then living past it. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, the mother of Jesus, to tell her how her life is about to be disrupted in the name of God, he said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary…” (Luke 1:30, NRSV) Likewise, when the shepherds were in the fields the night Jesus was born and the glory of God appeared before them, the angel also said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…” (Luke 2:10, NRSV)
With both Mary and the Shepherds God and the angel recognized the presence of fear and then promised them something better. The promise of Christmas is not a life free from fear, but a life beyond fear. We can trust in God’s goodness even if we can’t feel it and life seems really scary. God recognizes and knows our fears, then lets us know that there is something amazing beyond them.
So, this Advent I invite you name your fears. This is more for yourself than for God, for God already knows what you are afraid of. Take ten-minutes over the next few days, sit down in a quiet place with pen and paper (or perhaps a journal) and answer this question: What am I afraid of right now? Take the full ten minutes, don’t rush through it. See what you learn about yourself. Then ask God, who already knows your fears, to help you also see a life beyond them. Close your eyes and imaging God saying, “Do not be afraid, (insert your own name)…I am bringing you good news…”