By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge
According to psychologists, there are really only five types of fear we humans experience. We fear extinction or annihilation that produces that pit in your stomach feeling that you get from looking over the edge of a tall building. We fear mutilation – the loss of a body part or body function, or having our body violated in some way by other humans or animals like spiders or snakes. We fear a loss of autonomy, whether that means we’re trapped or imprisoned, or limited in some way by our circumstances. We fear separation – being abandoned, rejected or not wanted by the people around us, and we fear ego-death like humiliation or shame.
In our Hebrew scriptures this morning (Isaiah 9:1-4) , we learn that our ancient Israelite cousins experienced a full buffet of these fears. These are people who have walked in darkness for a very long time, afraid of annihilation by their enemies, afraid of what their enemies might do to them physically, afraid that those enemies would send them into exile, take away their autonomy, separate them from their sacred land and family and humiliate and shame them by conquering them.
That’s a whole lot of fear for one group of people to face. But, the prophet Isaiah has good news: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.”
The prophet is promising these fearful people that darkness is not their destiny. Fear, shame and humiliation will not be their legacy in this world. Instead, the Holy, that great light, is always at work, always available, always shining even in the midst of our deepest and darkest nights.
These ancient Hebrews were familiar with fear – and we, too, continue to experience those fears of annihilation, mutilation, loss of autonomy, separation and ego-death. Those fears are alive and well in our time and those fears lead us down a path of brutality, spiritual poverty and hunger and ultimately into hopelessness. We, like our ancient desert dwelling cousins, often feel powerless over our fears. When we’re afraid, we all become fabulous storytellers, spinning great yarns about how our fears will play out. We will be abandoned, nobody will love us. We’ll lose our freedom and be separated from everyone and everything we care about. We will be humiliated and shamed, violated by the evil of the world.
But, God reminds the people of Israel that despite their fears – even the ones that came true – they have always been guided through them, they have always emerged victorious, there is always a reason for hope. Isaiah reminds them of how God led Gideon, with an inferior army, to defeat the well-armed and well-trained Midianite army.
The message then is the same now: we may feel unarmed in the face of our fears, but there is a light shining in the darkness. The light of the Holy always shines, and always assures us of victory over our fears if only we’ll lighten up and be still and be not afraid.