Fear Not! I Bring You Good News
Rejoice! It is the third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete Sunday. The liturgical color switches from purple to rose, as we focus not on the pain of waiting but on the joy of expectation. We hear in the first reading: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.”
In the last two blogs, I focused our attention on darkness and death. Today, we turn the corner. We begin to sense the joy of Christmas, the wonder of the Incarnation, and the peace that is promised. The joy of Christmas, of course, is itself a precursor and a foretaste of the perfect joy of the Second Coming, when Christ will triumph over all His enemies, especially death itself. The Resurrection is not a theme reserved to Easter alone. It pervades the entire Christian calendar and experience.
In late October, just after his birthday, my young friend Kyle collapsed in a parking lot in Rhode Island, where he goes to college. Bystanders called for an ambulance immediately, and when the paramedics arrived they found that he had stopped breathing and had no heartbeat. Thanks to their skill and quick action, they revived Kyle and quickly brought him to the Emergency Room. He was losing blood internally from a bleeding ulcer and his blood pressure was so dangerously low that death was a very real possibility. He was brought in for emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. Ventilated and attached to sixteen IV’s, Kyle remained unconscious as doctors worked to save his life even as his body was in multi-system failure.
Waiting is painful. It is something we all know too well. Waiting for a diagnosis. Waiting for a job offer. Waiting for a loved one to return from war. Waiting to hear from doctors how a friend or loved one is doing. It is such a stressful time. The minutes seem like hours, don’t they? Hope and fear engage in a fierce battle that threatens our sanity and destroys any sense of peace. In these times, our faith is critical and our faith community is invaluable. Hope is sustained. Fear is held at bay.
This past week, a story has been circulating on the internet about Linus in Charles Schulz’s classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Linus, as you know, is never without his blanket. He sucks his thumb and carries that security blanket everywhere. According to the author, “Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all work to no avail to separate Linus from his blanket. And even though his security blanket remains a major source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he simply refuses to give it up.” Then, the author points out a wonderful detail from that Christmas special that many of us—myself for certain—probably never noticed. In the scene where Linus proclaims the real meaning of Christmas, at the very moment when he proclaims, “Fear not!” he also drops his blanket.
This is why we rejoice! Linus (that is to say, Charles Schulz) got it exactly right. The Christmas message that we are anticipating on this Gaudete Sunday is a message that destroys fear forever. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear,” according to St. John (1 John 4:18). As we endure the tension of a world where fear and hope do battle for our souls, Isaiah announces, “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!” With Christ, we can afford to drop every security blanket, every mask, every defense mechanism that we have ever developed to protect ourselves in a scary world. With Christ, we can stand absolutely naked before our God, “free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight, all the days of our life” (Luke 1:74-75).
The Gospel reminds us today of some signs that point to Jesus as the long-awaited one who brings hope and conquers fear. “When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.’” This past week, my friend Kyle was released from the hospital. He had lost his ability to walk, but now he walks again. His kidneys had stopped functioning and he was on dialysis, but now he is healthy. He was dead, but now he is alive. Keep your eyes open. Though the world is full of heartache, it is also resplendent with signs of the Kingdom. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4)