Advent Reflection 17: Fear

“Jesus said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (Mt. 8:26).

My four year-old Kezek calls it his “blankey.” My two year-old Ryser has just recently adopted the term. Charlie Brown’s best friend Linus called it his “security and happiness blanket” (Good Grief, More Peanuts, 1956). Child psychologists refer to it as a “comfort object” or “transitional object,” often referring to a (literal) “security blanket” but sometimes to a stuffed animal or other such item. These are objects that are typically used in early childhood as children begin to develop self-awareness and a sense of relative independence. Newborns see the world as an extension of themselves, but soon that illusion is reduced to just the mother, who “brings the world” to the infant. Desire is translated to screaming in the middle of the night; screaming in the middle of the night becomes the faithful mother who is there to satisfy the desire. But eventually, the child must necessarily be disillusioned if s/he is going to make it in the world. The child must learn that mom isn’t going to be around forever to bring the world at every beck and call.

This is where blankies and passies and teddies come in handy. It’s about having something familiar to hold onto in a world that often forces the unfamiliar upon us. Ambulances are stuffed full of “emergency blankets” to give to victims of trauma, not because trauma victims are necessarily cold, but because there are times we all need a “blankey.”  Indeed, after polling over 6,000 people trying to track down the owners of about 75,000 stuffed animals in 452 hotels, the hotel chain Travelodge discovered that 35 percent of British adults still sleep with a teddy bear. Life is scary, especially for adults.

That’s why we prefer the illusion. It’s also why we refer to retirement funds as “security blankets,” which is just another way of talking about the “blankey” we take to our death bed. We hold on to the illusion because between recessions, ISIS, teenage texting and driving, not to mention the inevitability of death, letting go of the illusion would mean holding on to…what? What is there to “bring the world” to us that isn’t terrifying?

Perhaps that is why we don’t take Advent seriously anymore. Resurrection of the dead, reconciliation of all things—the most basic promises of God’s future—are the promises Christians doubt most. We have that in common with atheists. We may believe God will bless our nation, prosper our business, secure our retirement fund, grant us traveling mercies, eliminate life’s storms. We will believe just about anything about God other than what he has definitively promised. This is how we can still talk about having “faith” in God without having to have either faith or God. Faith in God is not truly faith in God unless it requires us to let go of our attempts to control or avoid the future.

Advent means that though the world attempts to control or turn away from the unfamiliar future, the Church looks futureward with open arms because we are familiar with God’s promise: that Christ is coming to bring the world to us. 

In that case, we could all learn a little lesson from Linus. Linus was known for being the kid who refused to let go of his blankey. But who can blame him when the alternative is to begin exchanging one illusion for another, when life begins with a baby blanket and ends with one for the death bed? But, in fact, Linus did let go of his blanket. He just waited till the right time. He waited till he found something else to hold onto, something he need not fear, something real, the world that was being brought to him–Advent.

Just notice the exact moment he drops it.

Now go and do likewise…

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