2020. A year many of us would like to forget, but that none of us will. A year unlike any other. A year that has emotionally affected us all. What emotions have you felt more keenly this year? There will be lots of answers: sadness, grief, pain, loss, anger, boredom, stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness to name a few. Let’s consider those last two.
Fear: How can something invisible to the naked eye wreak so much havoc? How can it tear apart the very fabric of many things we hold dear? This year many of us will have faced fears that we haven’t faced to that depth before:
Fear of getting infected: Regular activities have become fraught with danger. Shopping, commuting to work, going out for a meal or to a sporting event. Each one has gone from being run of the mill to being carefully choreographed. Being limited in who we go with or where we can sit, choosing our time to avoid as people as possible. Other people cease to become people and just become ‘other’. They might have the virus and so are best avoided. Our community to be loved becomes the enemy to be feared.
Fear of infecting others: Some of us aren’t high risk. We will almost certainly be fine. Our fear isn’t so much getting the virus – it’s passing it on. What if we have it asymptomatically? What if we pass it on unknowingly? What if we pass it someone vulnerable? The fear of indirectly being responsible for putting them at risk can lead to withdrawing. The vulnerable who may need us most are now to be avoided for fear of infecting them.
Fear of change: Every year the world changes – but in few years does it change so drastically. For many, we had figured out how to live in 2019 – now, life is bewildering. And that’s not just because the laws change faster than we can keep pace with. Working patterns may have changed for good, some industries we loved may never recover. And so, even with a vaccine, the future is filled with fear. Is a new normal going to be more ‘normal’ or more ‘new’? And will the new be better or worse?
Fear of loss: Some will have personally suffered loss this year – whether bereavement, redundancy, our children losing education as we knew it or loss of other things. But nearly all of us feared loss. That older relative we last saw in February. Who we love deeply. And have been fearing we may never see again. A fear we may feel every time someone else rings – in case it is the news we dread.
2020 is the year that underlying fears have come to the surface. The year we realised we aren’t in control. And so fear has struck us all. And it’s not just fear.
Loneliness: Quarantine. Self-isolation. Limits on who we can see. And where. And how close we can stand. A near total ban on physical contact. These are ideas we would never have thought we would have to face. But we have. And so we have seen way fewer people than ever this year. And way less intimately. A Zoom catch-up just isn’t the same. Cut off from our vital support networks, life has been tough. Isolation isn’t something just faced by those who have had symptoms – isolation is something we have all felt.
Fear and loneliness. Two emotions we have all faced. And two emotions that are linked in a vicious cycle.
When we are afraid, our natural inclination is to withdraw. From the world around us, from our friends, and even from those closest to us. And so, we feel alone. Like no-one understands. And no-one can help. Fear leads to loneliness.
But loneliness then leads to greater fear. The more alone we feel, the more our fearful thoughts hold us captive. The more we withdraw, the less those we love can speak truth to our fears.
Fear increases loneliness. Loneliness increases fear. A vicious cycle. One from which many of us need rescuing.
Emmanuel: The wonderful news is that God understands that cycle. The most frequent command in the Bible is, “Do not fear.” Not said by a distant God telling us off for being wimps. Instead, spoken by a loving God who intimately understands our fragility. And the Bible paints a striking motif. What is God’s answer to fear? Time and time again, it is to deal with our loneliness. Psalm 23 is one of the Bible’s most famous chapters and here is a bit of it:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you [God] are with me”
What is the Bible’s answer to fear? It’s God’s presence. God with us. And it’s not just an isolated verse – check out Genesis 26:24, Joshua 1:9, 1 Chronicles 28:20, 2 Chronicles 20:17, Psalm 118:6, Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 43:5, Jeremiah 1:8, Jeremiah 42:11 and Jeremiah 46:28 (all linked below).
And so, to Christmas. Because God’s ultimate answer to fear is a new-born baby. Because:
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel (which means “God with us”).” (Matthew 1:23)
This is the wonder of the Christmas story. The God of the Bible deals with our fear by dealing with our loneliness. He sends His Son to be God with us. And more than that, He promises to live in us by His Spirit. Even amidst the fear and loneliness of 2020, the Christian is never alone and need not fear. Because Emmanuel was born. Because God is with us.
List of verses:
Genesis 26:24 – “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you”
Joshua 1:9 – “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
1 Chronicles 28:20 – “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you”
2 Chronicles 20:17 – “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”
Psalm 118:6 – “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.”
Isaiah 41:10 – “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.”
Isaiah 43:5 – “Do not be afraid, for I am with you”
Jeremiah 1:8 – ““Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.”
Jeremiah 42:11 – “Do not be afraid of him, declares the Lord, for I am with you”
Jeremiah 46:28 – “”Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant, for I am with you,” declares the Lord.”