So we’re two days into the new year, what are you thinking about 2022 this morning? Will 2022 be different from and better than 2021? I don’t know but I suspect that’s a question many of us are asking and wondering about, and with good reason.
2021 began with an attack on our nation’s capitol by our fellow citizens. 2021 ended with the United States setting a new record for the highest number of coronavirus cases in one day, and did so on two consecutive days.
Then there was 2021 in between those two events – a winter storm, supply chain failures, the migration crisis, the Taliban returning to power, and airline passengers physically attacking crew members, to mention just a few. And every one of us could tell stories about what 2021 was like for us, our family, and our friends personally.
Despite the divisions in our country and the various chasms between individuals, groups, and parties, my guess is that we’re all hoping and praying for 2022 to be different from and better than 2021, in the same way we hoped and prayed that 2021 would be different from and better than 2020.
Maybe those hopes and prayers, though sincere and well-intentioned, are misdirected. Maybe asking if 2022 will be different from and better than 2021 isn’t the question we ought to be asking. Here’s why I says that. It exteriorizes our focus and places it on other people and circumstances. It seeks information instead of transformation. It lets us off the hook and lets us avoid ourselves.
Maybe the question we should be asking, the prayer we should be praying, and the thing for which we should be hoping, isn’t about 2022 but about ourselves. It’s not about whether 2022 will be different from and better than 2021, but whether we will. Will you and I in 2022 be different from and better than we were in 2021?
I think the question is less about the events of 2022 and more about our fear. I think the answer to that question depends on whether and how we deal with our fear:
- Fear of the future;
- Fear that we don’t have as much control or power as we want;
- Fear of change and losing what we have;
- Fear of our mortality and the fragility of life, and, ultimately;
- Fear of each other.
What are you fears about 2022? What leftover fears have you brought with you today from 2021? Where are you stuck? Identify the places your life is stuck and you’ll find not only fear, but a life that wants to enter the world through you.
If we want to grow up and live the life that wants to enter the world through us, then we must deal with our fear. That’s the challenge facing Herod and Joseph in today’s gospel (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23), and it’s the challenge facing us in 2022.
Fear is a thread that runs through today’s gospel. Both Herod and Joseph are afraid.
- Herod “was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him,” when “wise men from the East” ask about “the child who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2-3).
- And how could Joseph not be afraid? Herod wants to kill Jesus, and Joseph has been given responsibility for protecting the lives of Jesus and Mary, and getting them safely to Egypt. Matthew says that Joseph “was afraid” to return to the land of Israel “when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod.”
There’s a lot of fear in today’s gospel and today’s world. It’s not hard to imagine what Herod and Joseph might be afraid of, we need only look at our own lives, but today I am more interested in what they did with their fear. They handle themselves in two very different ways. They help us see the ways by which we handle our fear. You see, Herod and Joseph live in each of us.
The thing that strikes me about Joseph is his dreams. In today’s gospel he has three dreams upon which he acts. Here’s what I think is significant about that. They show that Joseph was connected to his inner world and that he trusted it. He experienced himself as a part of something bigger than the tangible sensory world, something larger than he could imagine. Joseph had a link to the infinite. He experienced the numinous within himself. And that changes how we deal with our outer world.
I don’t think our interior world, whether we experience it through prayer, dreams, or visions, necessarily gives us instructions or marching orders. Instead, it enlarges our life and world. It opens us to see, hear, and consider more. It raises new questions and offers additional information to be pondered.
It’s interesting to me that Joseph never says a word in today’s gospel. Instead, he is receptive and listening. He seeks his guidance from within.
In contrast to Joseph, however, Herod seeks his guidance from outside, from “wise men.” He believes they have his answers. He is not silent. He asks questions and gives orders. He tells the wise men, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him bring me word” (Matthew 2:8). His world is only as big as that which he can control. He is disconnected from any power greater than himself, and that’s a scary place to be.
Herod, unlike Joseph, refuses to do his own inner work. He sends the wise men to do it for him, but nobody else can do our work for us, and it leaves Herod feeling tricked and infuriated to the point of violence. He “killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16). And it all began with fear. Herod rules by fear and is ruled by fear.
Fear is what caused Herod to search for Jesus and fear is what caused him to kill all the babies two and under. As long as we are unwilling to face ourselves and the fears that live within each of us we will be possessed by that fear and we will continue Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. Fear not dealt with always diminishes life, our own or someone else’s. That’s not how I want to live and that’s not the legacy I want to either leave or perpetuate, and I don’t think you want to either. I want to be different from and better than that, don’t you?
Let’s consider for a moment the ways in which fear intersects our lives:
- Imagine the life you want for yourself or others. How is that life being disrupted or hijacked by fear today?
- By what values are you living your life? And in what ways is fear present in those values?
- Where is your life stuck? What are the patterns in your life by which you do the same old stupid thing again and again? What are you avoiding, ignoring, or hiding from? In what ways do you overcompensate? And what’s the fear behind all those things? (James Hollis, Prisms, 176-178)
“There is nothing wrong with being fearful; that is human; but it’s wrong to live a life governed by fear” (James Hollis, Hauntings, 75). That’s the difference between Herod and Joseph. Herod’s life is possessed by fear, Joseph’s life is motivated and energized by fear.
How might you deal with your fear differently in 2022? What do you need to change or let go of?
The issue isn’t whether we will at times be fearful. That’s a given, we will. The issue is what we do with that fear and what we allow it to do with us. And it seems there are two basic responses.
Herod’s fear caused him to take life, Joseph’s fear caused him to protect life. Both happen in a thousand different ways. Look at any place where fear is present and you’ll see life takers and life protectors. Sometimes I’ve been Herod and sometimes I’ve been Joseph. I’ll bet that’s true for you as well. It’s the choice that stands before us every time we face our fear.
Herod or Joseph? That choice just might determine whether 2022 is different from and better than 2021.
“The Flight” by Richard Causton and George Szirtes – a retelling of the flight to Egypt in music and poetry.