Sermon preached by The Reverend Dr Joan Crossley Advent 3 Christingle 2003
I met a really nice man at a party who wanted to give me free tickets to
a new tourist attraction he had just opened at Syon Park. When he gave them
to me, apparently I turned white with fear. Because the tickets were for a
butterfly house. There is nothing more guaranteed to give me the
heeby-jeebies than a moth in my bedroom in summer. Even a butterfly sitting
innocently on the ceiling makes it impossible for me to sleep. Imagine my
horror in being invited to spend an hour in a place where butterflies as big
as dinner plates actually settle on you! I gave them to a friend and even
her description made me shudder. Now if you aren’t spooked by butterflies
then you just don’t know what I am going on about. But lots of people have
phobias – there are phobia-names for huge numbers of things. There are lots
of web-sites devoted to phobias, but I just chose a few at random.
Octophobia- Fear of the number 8
Ophthalmophobia- Fear of opening one’s eyes
Ostraconophobia- Fear of shellfish
Panophobia- Fear of everything
Papyrophobia- Fear of paper
Paraskavedekatriaphobia- Fear of Friday the 13th
Peladophobia- Fear of bald people
Phobophobia- Fear of fear
Phronemophobia- Fear of thinking
Peladophobia- Fear of bald people
Pogonophobia- Fear of beards
I don’t have any of those fortunately, but most of us are afraid of something
even if they aren’t quite phobic about it. Children are often convinced that
there are monsters hiding under their beds which will come out if the light is
turned off. Many grown-ups hate the dark too. Not just the absence of light but
the nameless scary things that may lurk in the darkness. We often worry the most at night, when it is dark, even if we are safe, because the nighttimes is when we are tired and vulnerable and our deepest anxieties come to the fore. In the dark all our nightmares about being ill, or alone, or dying, or lack of money all creep out and pounce on us.
The passage we just heard from Phillippians recognises our vulnerability to fears and bad feelings and gives us really powerful, useful, psychologically sensible advice about how to cope with inner darkness. The writer says focus on the positive. Actively seek out those things which are lovely, those things which are pure, good, wise and stay with them. Keep your thoughts focussed on the good, as a device for facing down evil both in our thoughts and in other people. Now Christians believe that all that is good comes from God. Listen to this beautiful passage from James’ Epistle. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down the Father of Lights, with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning”. (James 1:17) Isn’t that a beautiful way of describing God, as the Father of Lights ? The writer reminds us that all that is good and lovely in Creation comes as a gift from our unchanging God.
But sometimes, through ill-health, through loss or bereavement or natural temperament, we are overwhelmed by fear. And God knows this may happen and has made loving provision for us. We have His promise that in the dark winter of our worst fears Jesus will be with us. When we pray He will hear us. In the darkest times we will not be alone for we have the Hope of Jesus come among us, into the world to be our Light. When we light the Christingle candles which we will do now, we remind ourselves of the brightness which Jesus’ loving companionship brings to the dark world. As you light the candle, name before Jesus your deepest fear and ask Him to be alongside you, your faithful companion in the dark times and the bright. Amen.