Fearful Love?

Andy Wade –

Finding ourselves in the Feast of the Holy Innocents

glass.mangerHow does one wrap their mind around the atrocity of King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents? Fear of losing power led him to order the killing of all males two years old and younger. Fear, is a powerful motivator, driving many of us to do things that harm others and harm ourselves.

Fear Not!” the angel declared, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people!”

But not all the people were joyful.

Too often fear drives us into actions, and inactions, that are anything but good news for all people. Innocent children, women, and men are “slaughtered” on the altar of fear, an altar all too often constructed with material dislodged from Scripture and fashioned into implements of war and injustice.

I like to put myself into biblical stories as different characters, trying to imagine what they must have been thinking and feeling. What motivated them? Can I find a bit of myself in the character in the story? But who does this with characters like King Herod! I can’t even begin to identify with that megalomaniac! What could I possibly have in common with him?

And yet, as I slip on his royal robes and magnificent rings, oh how the power begins to surge through my veins! I am king of my entire territory! Then these strange magi appear telling me of a different king, a king born right under my nose! A king with such importance that the heavens declare his birth!How can I sit by and watch my power unravel?

Perhaps wrapping out minds around the terror unleashed by King Herod is not so difficult after all. But, of course, I’m not king and my power is really quite limited. So really, what do King Herod and I really have in common? Actually something quite basic: fear. So to enter this story, to really enter this story, I must explore how fear has motivated me.

Unwrapping our own motivations reveals all too clearly how closely our attitudes align with that of Herod’s

Fear Not!” declared the angel. Can we live into that invitation?

It’s so easy to poke holes in the motivations of others. There are so many modern-day parallels to King Herod’s massacre of the innocents. We do well to pay attention and not just denounce, but work for justice, healing, and peace in these areas.

At the same time it’s important to find ourselves in the person of Herod. In the Book of Common Prayer, this prayer captures well the reality of our situation while at the same time reminding us that there is hope precisely because of the “good news of great joy” we have in Jesus:

“Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”

Even as we pray and work for justice, peace, and reconciliation in this broken world, our spiritual health and growth demand that we examine our own lives and motivations. One of the fastest ways to kill holy imagination and creativity is to allow fear run lose in our minds. Too often we don’t even recognize it as fear as it hides behind such noble ideals as prudence, practicality, and piety. And yet there it is, lurking in the shadows, obscure enough to hide from scrutiny yet crippling various manifestations of good news of great joy for all the peoples.

As we prepare to enter the new year, we can peak behind our motivations by asking ourselves, in 2013:

  • What opportunities did I turn down because they were outside of my comfort zone?
  • Were there areas I got “involved” but emotionally held back because of fear?
  • What creative ideas did I dismiss?
    • What was my reasoning for dismissing them?
    • Was I honest, or fearful?
  • What creative ideas did others have that I shot down as impractical, too risky, or “not how we do things around here”?
  • How have I lived into “good news of great joy for all peoples”, forsaking my fears and forging ahead?
  • How have I encouraged and supported others to step outside of their comfort zones for the purposes of God’s good news?
  • Are there people, policies, or agendas that I’ve supported that are “good news” for a few but harmful to many others?
    • Where have I been motivated by personal benefit, afraid of losing some personal aspect of power or control, but that comes at great cost to others who are negatively impacted by my decisions?

Of course not all creative ideas are good and not all opportunities are beneficial. There are legitimate times to say “no” and to walk away. As we enter the new year, my hope is to be motivated by good news to fearlessly embrace all that God brings my way regardless of personal loss or discomfort. Yes, it’s a giant hope, but perhaps by God’s grace, I can live more into the power of Christ, and less into the motivations of Herod.

The Apostle John puts it beautifully, and rather starkly when we read these words in the context of Herod:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.    1 Jn. 4:16b-21

In 2014, may we live beyond our fears and love with the extravagant imagination of God!