"Boggarts and Fear" by Vicar A.J. Houseman
My sophomore year of college I studied abroad in Australia. And at the end of the semester when I was going to leave my plane ticket had a free stay over in New Zealand. Why not right? So by myself I got a rental car and drove around New Zealand for a week. It was amazing.
But it didn’t start off amazing. My plane landed late in the evening and I got in my rental car at the airport and headed to my hotel/hostel. It was about an hour and a half drive from the airport in Auckland, so by the time I got into the area, it was dark… really dark. There were 3 volcanoes positioned near a lake, a very picturesque place. Except it was dark, late, and foggy, so you couldn’t see any of these things. Adding to the creepiness of the foggy night, I couldn’t find the hostel/hotel. I drove back and forth up and down this creepy mountain road that the GPS lady said this hotel/hostel should be at. I was 19, alone at night and I did not have a working phone… I started to panic.
It felt like I was in the beginning of a horror film, alone on a foggy mountain road in a foreign country the little blonde girl disappears and is never seen again. I finally stopped in a restaurant/bar and asked if they knew where it was and they let me use the phone to call. Well they had turned the lights off because it was close to 11PM and they did not think anyone else was coming.
I get there and it looks like it is straight out of the movie Psycho, it’s the Bates Motel itself is in New Zealand and I have found it. The owners “were on holiday” and the cousins are watching it for the week. Act 2 of the horror film is beginning. And I thought, “I’m not falling for this. THe owners are on holiday… what a likely story.“ So I “slept” in my car. Well I didn’t really sleep at all, I woke up about every 5 seconds, sat up very quickly, and looked around wielding my flashlight as a weapon. The next day everything was fine. They were nice people and they made a nice breakfast. The mountains were stunningly beautiful in the bright daylight.
I remember being so scared. Terrified. SO Scared that it made me frustrated and angry when I couldn’t find the hostel. Angry when i was cranky from not sleeping.
Earlier this week while talking to Marlene, I realized that I had been talking a lot about fantasy and fiction the last month with Star Wars, the Hobbit, and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Why stop now? To keep with this trend, let’s talk Harry Potter.
In the 3rd Harry Potter book, the Prisoner of Azkaban, we are introduced to a new magical creature called the Boggart. This creature has no official shape, no one knows what it really looks like because it changes for each person. It takes the shape of what that person fears most. All the kids in the Defense Against the Dark Arts class line up to face their fears one by one. For one student it's a giant spider, for another a giant snake, and on and on it goes.
Their fears are tangible things that they have seen either in stories, on TV, or even in real life magnified to a panic inducing fear. At some point in time, our deepest fears change from these sorts of things as children to things that are much more abstract. Fear of death. Fear of a loved one dying. Fear of failure. Fear of emptiness.
This morning in our gospel reading, we see some of Jesus’ fear coming out. A little background information of Jesus’ fears: Herod the Great was in power at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was named “King of the Jews” by the Roman Empire. He was a Jew, and on behalf of Rome, he was in charge of Judea, Galilee, Perea, Samaria, and Ituraea. Herod the Great did his best to eliminate any threat to this authority as “King of the Jews” including ordering the execution of two of his sons and ordering execution of all male boys under 2 years of age around Bethlehem because a boy was born who was foretold was the “King of the Jews”. Mary and Joseph and their infant, Jesus, fled as refugees to Egypt for fear of the life of this baby, who was born the King of the Jews.
When Herod the Great died, Rome broke up his kingdom into 4 pieces, giving them to his remaining living children. Ruling over Judea was Herod Archelaus, the ethnarch, meaning ethnic leader of the Jews, however, there was no longer a “King of the Jews”. When Mary, Joseph, and Jesus came back to Israel they went to Nazareth in Galilee to avoid Herod Archelaus and were under the rule of his younger brother Herod Antipas.
Herod Antipas was determined to name himself King of the Jews just as much as his brother. And as Jesus’ ministry begins to take off, he’s putting himself on the radar of danger as more and more people proclaim him the King of the Jews. Remember, Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist not too long ago.
Fear. Something every human is vulnerable to. It’s natural. Even though we often promote overcoming our fears. Especially in men. For some reason, men are not allowed to be afraid by societal norms. We teach bravery and courage and that this is somehow the opposite of fear. That men need to be brave. The thing is though, fear is not something we can control that way, we can’t just will it not to happen. There are ways we can deal with fear, ways we can cope with it. But it comes, regardless of how much we don’t want it to.
Often, when we experience fear, it can manifest itself into other emotions. Anger being one of the biggest. Instead of admitting our fear, we lash out on those around us.
When a child climbs a tree too high, a parent will yell at them to get down, that they are being irresponsible and reckless. Maybe even ground them! Behind that anger is fear. The parent loves their child and is really trying to say, “I am absolutely terrified that something bad is going to happen to you, child, because I love you.”
As Christians, we often focus on the divinity of Jesus. The manifestation of God into our world. What we often forget is that Jesus is also fully human and vulnerable to all the things that humans are vulnerable to, this includes fear and anger.
In Jesus’ words to Peter, “get behind me, Satan!” What is behind this anger? The language here is the same that Jesus says to Satan directly in his tempting of Jesus in the wilderness. This lashing out on Peter and calling him Satan is full of fear. What is Jesus scared of?
Dying, perhaps? Failing? I mean, Peter is saying you don’t have to go die in Jerusalem, Jesus. We can hide you from Herod.
We all have fears about the future. Fears about what comes next, what if something bad happens, what if?
The big question I have for you this week is this: how do we engage our faith in our fears?
See the things that Jesus needed to hear, the thing that we all need to hear at some point in time is this: it’s ok to be afraid. Fear is often what reminds us we are human. And maybe courage is not the opposite of fear. That suppressing your fears is what makes you brave. But rather, naming your fears is what takes courage. Naming your fears is what makes you brave.
In New Zealand, I was afraid of dying, I was afraid of being lost, I was also afraid of the dark, but mostly, I was afraid of the unknown.
Much of our fear boils down to that, doesn’t it? Afraid of what we don’t know about the future. THe unknown place, the unknown space of time.
Sometimes naming this fear takes awhile, for some longer than others. Jesus isn’t quite there yet. He hasn’t gotten to the place where he can name his fear. But he does eventually.
Eventually, Jesus goes to a garden to pray. He lifts his fears up to God and says, “Father, take this cup from me.”
Fear is neutral, fear is human. It’s our response to fear that makes all the difference. Take courage in your faith. The courage to name your fears and lift them up to God.