So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Let me share with you what I want more than anything else for Christmas: I would like faith to displace fear as the driving motivational value in our global culture, community, and church. Today’s church and world is being torn apart by fear, worry, anxiety, and angst. Fear, in a multitude of disguises – anger, violence, prejudice, exclusion, judgmentalism, caustic rhetoric, suspicion, security systems and weapons, insult comedy, racism, sexism, classism, on and on – makes belief in a redeeming, saving, life-affirming, and generative faith seem irrational, unreasonable, gullible, and immature. Who in their right mind would feel good about our world in its present condition?
Well, God for one. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” In a world of turmoil, conflict, and rampant fear, we have a Messiah, a Savior, a counter-cultural reality that has the power to transform and make all things new.
But fear is a pathology in our society. It has taken root in our very DNA, and it causes us to act and react in some of the most toxic, unhelpful, self-defeating, and destructive ways possible. It seems easier to break things than to fix them; to split apart instead of working together for unity and peace; sacrificing the common good and a universal peace and security for personal, private, and individual short-term, inadequate solutions. Who can we trust? The “other” is strange, foreign, unsettling, dangerous. With this mindset, does the Gospel even stand a chance?
Two phrases in Greek, mE phobou andmE phobeisthe, occur frequently throughout the Christian scriptures. The first simply means, “be not afraid,” while the second, more specifically and pointedly, means “YOU be not afraid,” and it is both plural and indicative. If a person has faith, fear ceases to be an issue. Faith and fear cannot occupy the same space. Doubt or skepticism are not the opposites of faith; fear is. Where God is present, fear flies out the window. Jesus and Paul share the simple and clear admonition, “do not be afraid.” Don’t make it harder than it needs to be: Jesus Christ, Savior of the World, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Immanuel, Messiah, Lord of All, reigns in us – not fear. If God is for us, who can stand against us?
What will happen to us in February after the special session of General Conference? What happens if our borders allow too many foreigners into our country? What if peace talks break down in Korea? What if China gains too much power? What happens if we allow gay and lesbian leadership in the church? What happens if the other political party gains power? What happens if the other political party stays in power? What about gun violence, disease, computer hackers and identity thieves? Well, what about them? God is greater than any and all of our fears, anxieties, doubts, and delusions.
What I want most for Christmas is that we regain our center, and we reorient ourselves to God. I want to see God’s people of faith to rise above our divisions to be a witness to the power and strength of God’s love and grace. I want the world to look at the church and see a better way of being in the world and responding to the causes of so much fear and dread. In short, I want us who have received the miracle of God’s love called Christmas, to live as Christmas people every day of the years to come. People of faith, not fear; people of love and grace, not anxiety; people of hope and trust, not suspicion and distrust.
My prayer for all of you, beautiful people of the Wisconsin Conference, is that the peace of Christ may reign and rule in your hearts and minds, and may the Messiah be born again in your life this Christmas.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).