Hope in God, Fear Not

Readings: Zeph. 3.14-18; Is. 12; Phil. 4.4-7; Lk. 3. 10-18

(12/13) The Old Testament and New Testament periscopes read just prior to today's gospel have one message: "hope in God, fear not." Hope in God and fear not go hand in hand. The one messageis expressed both positively and negatively.

The prophet Zephaniah is writing in the early 600s BC. The Assyrians had been in control of Palestine for a hundred years. Over time and generations, the Jewish people had forsaken their monotheism for the polytheism of the Assyrians. They replaced their personal God Yahweh with the impersonal nature gods of the Middle East: the sun, moon, and star gods. The prophet Zephaniah proclaims that God will destroy his people and their kingdom. The prophet begins his book with these words: "I will completely sweep away all things from the face of the earth. He promises, "A day of wrath, a day of anguish and distress, a day of destruction and desolation." But the prophet concludes his brief three-chapter book with these words of hope: "Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel. Be glad and exult with all your heart. He has turned away your enemies. You have no further misfortune to fear." Why should the Jews have hope? Because as Zephaniah says, "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty Savior."

The Responsorial Psalm proclaims the same message. Positively, "God indeed is my savior. I am confident." And negatively, "I am unafraid." Why should we have hope? Because as the prophet Isaiah says, "among you is the great and Holy One of Israel."

St. Paul loved the Philippians. Positively, he encourages them: "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice." Negatively, he says the same thing. "Have no anxiety at all. In everything, make your requests known to God." Why should we have hope? Because as St. Paul says, "The Lord is near."

My message this morning is "hope in God; have no fear." Hope and fear are two sides of the one coin. None of us knows the future. What is your attitude towards the future: "We are in God's hands. All things will work out." Do you adhere to St. Paul's teaching: "All things work unto good for those who believe." Do you adhere to St. Augustine's teaching: "God brings good out of evil." Or do you face the negative side of the coin and say, "Woe is me. I am not good enough, not rich enough, not pretty enough, not safe and secure enough. If I only had a little more whether it be tangible goods or intangible quality of relationships."

Regarding this two-sided coin of hope and fear which each person experiences at times, may I make the following clarification.

Hope and fear are moral virtues. They are both to be lived in moderation. It would be wrong to have excessive hope and believe absolutely that God and other people will take care of you. The sin of presumption is to say to oneself, "I'll just eat, drink, and be merry, and not worry about God's eternal judgment upon me because I know he loves me and will forgive me. I'll quit my job. I'll quit my studies. Excessive hope describes the sin of presumption. Similarly, it would be wrong to have no hope, and to believe absolutely: "My life has no value to me or anyone else. My life has been wasted. I will contemplate suicide." These thoughts might arise as temptations, but to retain and entertain them is a sin. The virtue of hope lies in the middle. St. Augustine said it best, "Pray as though everything depends on God, and work as though everything depends on you."

Fear is a moral virtue. It is important to have a healthy and holy fear. It would be wrong to fearlessly take excessive risks with the gift of life that God has given you. I have watched on TV videos of people who crazily risk their lives for some crown of glory or for some huge sum of money. That is a sin. Shortly after I arrived here six years ago, some biker was riding naked and doing wheelies along the shoulder of the road, while some friend was filming him for a reality TV show. Unexpectedly, the biker slammed into a parked car, and died. Friends commented, "At least he died doing what he liked to do." Wrong. He committed a grave sin. He intentionally placed himself at excessive risk of losing the life which God had given him. To lose your life in the service of God and country, for family and society as so many public servants do is a heroic and healthy, holy fear. To place your life at risk for some silly purpose is a grave sin. While some people have too little fear, other people have too much fear. Excessive fear can cripple us emotionally, socially and psychologically in the real world. Everybody has a natural fear. Going to school, playing sports, starting a business, planning to achieve anything occasions risk and a healthy fear. Some people become paralyzed by fear, and don't achieve what they otherwise could have achieved.

Hope and fear. Have a healthy and holy hope and fear. We can reflect on our lives and times as the proverbial glass which is either half-empty or half-full. Recall the words of this morning's Scriptures: "Sing joyfully, O Israel. The Lord is in your midst." "God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all. We conclude with the words of St. Paul: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice."

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