In the scope of history, there was nothing new about the shift in government this past October. Routinely, Canadians tire of Conservative austerity, welcoming Liberal prodigality with a wave of votes. A few terms later, the tide reverses; Canadians clamour for Conservative restraint after Liberal excess. The cycle repeats.
Yet, this election upset felt different to many. People spoke of the landside change less in terms of policy and more in terms of emotion: hope.
In some ways, the rhetoric of fear that permeated the pre-election landscape is found in our conference and churches as well. How did this happen to followers of the author of hope?
The things we fear
As millions of displaced people seek shelter, we in safer corners of the world are afraid. We fear the refugees who long to enter our borders. Their needs could overtax our social system. Their differences will test Canadian values of freedom and non-discrimination.
We’re afraid of people from other religions. Recognizing the potential for violence in our own holy book, we fear the seeds of violence Islam may sow. A neighbour might be a terrorist. Devout new immigrant blocs might edge out our corner on the religious marketplace.
We’re afraid of the sins of the institution. We don’t want to talk about the harm Canada perpetuated on indigenous peoples. As Mennonites, we hide behind our historic isolationism, distancing ourselves from the residential school mistakes of both mainline denominations and the government.
Fear burrows into our churches. We’re afraid that people who don’t fit our categories of normal will make church uncomfortable for us. That a culture of “anything goes” will seduce us away from the narrow path of discipleship. Dissonant personal experiences threaten to loose our convictions from their mooring in Scripture. We’re pressured to make political correctness the standard instead of God’s call to holiness.
We’re afraid our churches will shrink or that our denomination will fracture apart. We worry the money will simply run out.
But, isn’t it God’s church, not ours?
Turn to the light
We’re celebrating Advent and looking toward Christmas now. Just as the twinkling LEDs of our decorations usher cheer into the lengthening night in our northern home, so the Christ-light of hope, peace, joy and love pierces even the darkest social or theological problem.
The temptation to despair is natural. Across humankind, our default is set to fear. Nearly every book of the Bible contains some encouragement not to be afraid – which suggests the hearers were leaning that direction.
Rather than staring into the abyss of our problems, the Bible urges us to turn our gaze to the light, to the One who commands his servants from Genesis to Revelation: Don’t be afraid, because…
I am your protector (Genesis 15:1, Judges 6:23, Job 5:21, Ezekiel 3:9).
I have heard your crying (Genesis 21:17, Daniel 10:12).
I am with you (Genesis 26:24, Joshua 1:9).
I will deliver you (Exodus 14:13, Numbers 21:34, 2 Chronicles 20:17).
I will grant you peace (Leviticus 26:6, Psalm 29:11, Proverbs 3:24, John 14:27, Romans 5:1).
I will fight for you (Deuteronomy 3:22).
I will provide (1 Kings 17:13).
I am your salvation (Isaiah 35:4).
I will cause you to prosper (Jeremiah 17:8).
I will make you a blessing (Zechariah 8:13).
I will give you the words to say (Mark 13:11).
I care about you (Matthew 10:31, 1 Peter 5:7).
I have a purpose for you (Luke 5:10).
I will rescue you (Acts 27:24).
I am the beginning and the end (Revelation 1:17).
Sometimes there is miraculous intervention, but just as often, God simply assures that he is with us and he cares. In that knowledge, we can set our hearts and minds at ease whether turmoil engulfs or troubles dissipate.
Circumstance need not cause us to fear; the deeper truth is that the Creator’s reach extends into every darkness, that Jesus walks with us through the deepest valleys, that the Spirit’s guiding light cannot be snuffed out.
As we string our Christmas lights, let’s call the church to its own revolution of hope, based not on a new government (that will inevitably introduce bad policies), nor on well-meaning leaders (who will eventually disappoint), but on the Prince of Peace whose coming into the world we celebrate at this time.
May we heed the words of the angel that first Christmas: “Do not be afraid…” (Luke 2:10).