From Fear to Hope:
Safety Pins, Fearful Kings, and Hopeful Magi

Safety (Pin) from Fear

You might not notice it, but there is a tiny safety pin attached to my shoelace. There is another one on the zipper of my coat, where I hope more people will see it and recognize me as a person who will provide a safe space. I put them there so I don’t have to remember to put one on my shirt every day, where it would get lost in the laundry and where my eight-month-old is likely to try to eat it.

Advent Part Four

I wear these pins for my students because, in light of current events, they are afraid. I wear them as a sign of solidarity with victims of recent hate crimes, and truthfully, because I am afraid of the violence that has taken place in the wake of our recent presidential election. Events at home and abroad are unsettling—and my hunch is that, wherever you and your students stand politically, you share in that fear to some extent. Life can be disturbing, and we do not always know what to do.

Truth be told, the tiny safety pin that I wear on my shoelaces isn’t really for other people—that one is just for me. It reminds me, when that metaphorical rock for a pillow fear keeps me up at night, to keep following the light. Like this story, it reminds me of the truth: that fear belongs to the losing team.

Yet as I approached the story of our Savior’s birth with the theme of “moving from fear to hope” in mind, I had to look for fear in the passage. After all, a bright light shone in the heavens, Scripture was fulfilled, and Jesus was born—hallelujah! Where is the fear in that? After reading this passage several times, I found it. In this story, fear belongs to the bad guy.

Power Leads to Fear

To be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable with the degree to which I understand King Herod. I mean, I get it—he feels threatened by the news that important people want to worship a new king and he doesn’t want to be ousted. Securing power is his instinct.

I’m not a political expert, but I do watch a lot of West Wing and Madam Secretary, which I’m fairly certain qualifies me to assume that Herod’s summons of “all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law” has some political nuances that are not in the text.

He calls in all the important leaders who might have an interest in the situation to assess the threat level and figure out what is exactly at stake. He strategizes to save his own skin—with, as it turns out, a horrendous exertion of power. But because I know the outcome of this story, I am not afraid of Herod; thousands of years later, he just isn’t a threat to me. He did terrible things, and there was danger and death and mourning. Yet I understand that he acted out of fear.

So, I guess there is fear in this story—but it does not belong to me. It is part of a little blurb, in a much larger story, in which God is securing divine power—the power that illuminates our world and brings the hope of salvation and redemption to the world. In this Advent story, fear belongs to the losing team. 

Hopeful Migrants

As I read and re-read this passage, it is the Magi who really have my attention. Fear has no place in their story; they are the ones who point to hope. After a presumably long journey, they arrive in Jerusalem and ask, expectantly, to see the newborn king of the Jews. Not finding him in there, they continue to follow the star with the hope and expectation of reaching him—and I can only pretend to grasp the deep fulfillment and joy they must have felt upon approaching the place where the child was.

Safety Pins

I imagine one interrupting another upon first seeing Jesus, shouting, “There he is, there he is! We made it!” Then all three of them lift their robes and break into a run as they complete the last steps of their pilgrimage, all shouts and smiles as they approach the little guy, their deepest hopes fulfilled.

Trusting Hope

What strikes me is the way that the Magi held hope and confidence together—to have one, they had to demonstrate the other. Their confidence in hoping for the long-awaited King of the Jews foretold in the Scriptures was made tangible in their long journey to Bethlehem and in their obedience to follow the star wherever it led.

I am certain, at some point during their trip, at least one of the Magi had sore feet and that the rock he was using for a pillow caused him to doubt if he should have embarked on this journey to begin with. But confidence in God and their hope that God would send the promised Messiah kept them going and has become an eternal part of Jesus’s entry into the world. Even a warning to avoid Herod on their way home did not deter them. They simply got up, followed God’s word, and took another road home, still trusting that this baby was the hope of salvation for their people. There is a reason we refer to them as wise men.

Exchange Fear for Hope

Truth be told, the tiny safety pin that I wear on my shoelaces isn’t really for other people—that one is just for me. It reminds me, when that metaphorical rock for a pillow fear keeps me up at night, to keep following the light. Like this story, it reminds me of the truth: that fear belongs to the losing team.

This Advent season, may we cast off all fear in the name of hope.  May we anticipate seeing Jesus with the ardent fervor of the Magi, and may hope be an eternal part of our story.


About the Author: Kate Obermueller Unruh

Kate UnruhKate Obermueller Unruh is a Kansas native and forever a Jayhawk at heart. She has more than ten years of experience in youth ministry in various roles, including serving as Assistant Minister at The American Church in London following the completion of an M.Div/M.A. in youth ministry. Kate lives with her architect husband Kyle and their two children in New Jersey, where she is a doctoral candidate in Christian Education and Formation at Princeton Theological Seminary.

 

 

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