My church is scary-movie-creepy in the dark. I learned this by experience on my first Sunday in my appointment. When my senior pastor was forced to quarantine because of a possible COVID exposure, I was asked to preach for him the Sunday before my appointment was to begin.
Eager to start this new part of my calling, I arrived at the church at about 5:30 a.m. as a part of my normal preaching routine. After a bit of time in my office, I decided to go and pray in the sanctuary. The problem was, I had only seen the campus one time and I was clueless about navigating this beautiful but confusing 200-year-old church.
I got completely lost looking for the sanctuary.
Not a good start. And confession … I am a total chicken when I am alone. In an unfamiliar place and surrounded by darkness, anxiety was an unwelcomed guest.
Maybe some of you can relate to the same feeling but in more serious circumstances in this crazy year of 2020. I imagine isolation and fear have found good company amongst us with all that we face as Christmas approaches.
Storms of life
The disciples felt something similar when they were planted in a fishing boat in the middle of a terrible storm. The synoptic gospels all share the story, but Matthew 8 strips it of almost all of the narration so that you are forced to focus on a couple of things, the disciple’s fear and Jesus’ identity. As the storm crashes into their boat, like an earthquake according to the Greek, the disciples feel completely alone.
Jesus is there but he is sleeping, silent, and seemingly absent from their predicament. When the disciples wake him up, Jesus ask them a poignant question, “why are you so afraid?”
Then he does his thing with the winds and the waves and the storm is gone. I have always struggled with this popular VBS story. Jesus asks a question that I have believed to be unfair --Jesus, they are afraid because there is an earthquake-tsunami about to wipe out their jonboat!
But look closer, Jesus’ rebuke is about something in specific.
Matthew is determined for us to see who Jesus is and everything in this gospel is oriented towards it: repeatedly, people wondering who it is that could perform such miracles, to the climactic confession of Peter in Matthew 16. All the way to another earthquake when Jesus died on the cross and the centurion profess that he is the Son of God.
“Why are you so afraid?” is not about their unbelief that Jesus can quiet the storm around them, but it is a rebuke because they have forgotten who is right next to them in the boat.
A closer Christmas
Some of our fear in this season is not about specifically our demise to life’s storms but our fear is driven by a lapse of judgment - forgetting that even when silent, Jesus, the Christ is in the boat with us.
My family enters into this season with some urgency. My dad has learned that he likely has throat cancer. He has a tumor that has grown quickly to the point that he cannot eat, and we are scrambling to get him the care he needs.
At times I am overcome with fear looking at the size of the waves and the “what ifs” that are pelting against our boat.
But Jesus’ rebuke becomes the reminder to me in this Advent season to see who is with me … “Why are you so afraid?” The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is the declaration to the world that no matter what we face, we are not alone. May you know just how close Christ is in this season.