‘OMICRON IS COMING.’ That was the headline that captured my attention, that filled me with apprehension.
Omicron, the fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, is now linked to a new variant of COVID 19, identified in November 2021 in Botswana and South Africa.
Some countries, including Australia, were quick to close their borders to regions where the virus had been detected. President Biden said,
‘This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.’
Despite the World Health Organisation suggesting that it is too early to make definitive statements, some news outlets have suggested the new variant will be more virulent, more deadly, and will decrease the efficacy of available vaccines.
Is it any wonder people are fearful? And the fear is cumulative. Each new variant poses a threat. It is disruptive, impacting on the way we work and the life we desire. It is damaging, undermining our health and wellbeing.
Our lives are changing in ways we could never have foreseen. Our freedoms are being eroded and our choices compromised. Government policy is shaping the way we think. Contrary opinions are often discredited and those who hold them are marginalised.
The pandemic is not the only thing that is threatening our peace and security. Climate change, economic crises, and natural disasters also evoke fear.
Global warming is coming. As temperatures rise, the weather becomes more extreme and more unpredictable.
There are many young people who fear the impact of climate change. It influences the way they think about their lives and the economic choices they make. Some couples regard having children as being irresponsible, given the uncertainty surrounding the future of our planet.
Other people are fixated on economic realities and worry about the sustainability of current economic models. They sense an economic crash is coming. They argue that increasing government debt levels and the inequities between rich and poor countries will eventually translate into global economic instability. Any serious review of monetary policy by financial institutions is enough to give people the jitters and send shockwaves through investment markets.
We lived in New Zealand for eleven years. Many New Zealanders live in fear of earthquakes and the devastation they can cause. Like many of our fears, they lie hidden or dormant, requiring a catalyst – a rattling of the windows, a rocking of the pictures on the wall, a shaking of the of the ground beneath our feet – to re-ignite our concerns and remind us of how vulnerable we are.
Major earthquakes are defining moments for towns and communities and become part of the historical narrative. When we were living in Hastings, we were mindful of its tragic past. The twin cities of Napier and Hastings on the east coast of the north island were decimated by the 1931 earthquake. At least 256 people died and many thousands more required medical treatment. Main roads were blocked by mountains of rubble. Fires burned, consuming what remained of fallen buildings. My father’s cousin, Marie Buck, was buried in the rubble of a department store in Hastings. Her body was never found.
Wellington, the political capital of New Zealand, is prone to earthquakes because it rests on the point where two tectonic plates meet. These plate movements have resulted in three major fault-lines running either through or very close to Wellington City. In the past 365 days there have been 26 earthquakes recorded, causing only minor damage. However, there remains an expectation that the ‘big one’ is coming. It is a case of preparing as best you can, knowing what action to take and ensuring buildings can withstand a serious disturbance.
Most people require a measure of stability and predictability to live comfortably, free of unwanted and unwarranted stress. Worry and anxiety about what might be, can be debilitating, eroding confidence.
When we are surrounded by change and uncertainty, like those imposed by a pandemic, climate change, economic crises, or natural disasters we question our ability to cope. We surrender to negative thoughts and contemplate unhelpful actions. We become prisoners to paralysing fear. We may believe added care and vigilance will protect us. But ‘fear is a relentless cycle and a self-fulfilling prophecy.’
There is one event in history that challenged the reign of fear and provided an alternate way of living.
In case you may have forgotten, Christmas is coming. When you are a child, the expectation and excitement take over. When you are older, the magic may lose some of its sparkle. Nevertheless, Christmas is an important time of the year. For many smaller retailers it determines the viability of their business and whether it makes sense to continue.
For those of us who identify with the Christian tradition, the four-week period before Christmas is referred to as Advent. It is a time of expectant waiting and careful preparation for the coming of the Christ child, the anticipated Messiah. Seven hundred years before the coming, the prophet Isaiah saw with amazing clarity aspects of the Christmas story.
‘Behold, a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.‘
The Jewish people had been waiting for the Messiah. But expectations varied. Some were looking for a deliverer, someone to release them from the oppressive rule of the Romans. Others desired a restorer, someone who could re-establish the Jewish nation and culture, and provide them with a sense of place.
The magi, who were thought to be eastern astrologers, came seeking confirmation of the birth of a Jewish king. When Herod the Great, the illegitimate king of the Jews, heard of these developments, he ordered the massacre of the infants of Bethlehem. Given his reputation for paranoia and ruthless cruelty, it is not surprising that he would deliberately seek out and eliminate a potential threat.
It is said, ‘love came down at Christmas.’ Throughout his life, Jesus demonstrated the power of love to set people free. He brought healing to the sick, release to the mentally disturbed, hope to the downtrodden. People flocked to hear him speak and his words were life. He said,
‘Come to me if you are tired, burdened, confused, and fearful, and I will give you rest.’
Fear not only holds us back, denying us the opportunity to live fully, it also holds us down, limiting our freedom to be our true selves.
Fear keeps us from our destiny. Florence Nightingale was a social reformer and the founder of modern nursing. For years she was reluctant to pursue her ‘calling’, fearing she would disappoint her family and sully her reputation. However, her life of service and sacrifice became a source of inspiration to many. She said,
‘How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.’
We live in an uncertain world. We do not know what challenges await us. Trying to manage the complicated issues that present themselves daily is more than enough. We cannot afford to surrender to fear. It is a liability.
Edith Eger survived Auschwitz and is a specialist in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. She says,
‘Fear does not have to rule your life. We can choose how much of our life we give over to fear.’
Fear and love do not coexist. When we open our lives to God’s love, our fears no longer have a hold on us. We are free to live fearlessly.
The coming of the Christ child is a pivotal moment in the history of mankind. It is a declaration of God’s love for all of creation. When we experience God’s love in our lives there is no reason to fear.