The other day my kids and I were discussing the angelic visitations recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 1. We named everyone who received such a visit (Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds) and I asked the kids if they could remember the first thing the angel said to each person or group. My oldest daughter excitedly answered, “Don’t be afraid!” Why would an angel sent from God say “fear not” before anything else?
We could tie a specific expression of fear to each of the New Testament figures who received an angelic visitor. Zacharias may have been afraid of what people would think of a geriatric father. Mary could have feared for her socio-economic future and her life. Joseph was already afraid of society, shame, and (probably) what would happen to Mary if he divorced her. The shepherds may have been completely disoriented by the angel’s sudden brilliant appearance in the dead of night and probably feared for their lives and their sheep. Each group may have also been afraid at the outset of what God might require of them and feared being equal to the task.
Fear seems to be a universal emotion. In my mind it is distinctly tied to mortality. Fear doesn’t exist in the presence of God, in heaven––God is always encouraging us to cast out fear because it is contrary to His nature and what He wants us to experience (see 2 Timothy 1:7, NT).
I readily relate to the fear each group must have experienced. Fear is one of my default emotions: Fear of what people think of me, fear for my children when they’re out of my sight, fear for what my kids will pick up at school, fear of being shot down when I share the Gospel, the list goes on. The angel’s words of Matthew 1 and Luke 1 probably had a calming effect and created a sense of confidence and peace in the listeners. The words of 1 John 4:18 came to my mind as I pondered this theme and they had a similar effect on me: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear….” How does “perfect love” cast out fear, I wondered? What does “perfect love” look like?
If I love my kids perfectly, then I prioritize Gospel learning with them and I have faith in the lessons we learn at home; I have hope in their salvation through Jesus Christ (should anything happen to them while out of my immediate care); I am able to see the bigger picture and don’t get caught up in minutiae. What if I loved God perfectly? If I love God perfectly, then I keep His commandments, I love and serve others willingly; I put God before anything else in my life, I prioritize scripture study and prayer; I turn the other cheek and don’t hold grudges; I trust fully in His power, His plan, and His love.
And then there will be no room for fear.
Ether 14:2 and Moroni 1:4
These last chapters of The Book of Mormon are so sad. Entire civilizations are destroyed in the short space of a few years. The root cause of their destruction is loss of faith in Christ and failure to keep the commandments of God. One of the key failures: love thy neighbor. I am taking this lesson to heart as I have seen in my own life the destructive potential of turning my neighbor into my enemy.
This lesson really hit home as I remembered times in my life when I felt angry at people. Angry at my peers in school, angry at the young man in college who I knew I was perfect for but he didn’t return my feelings, and more. That anger inspired terrible thoughts and bitter feelings; nothing good came of it. The Jaredites as well as the Nephites and Lamanites took this to the extreme. “[T]hey have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually” (Moroni 9:5). These groups did terrible things to each other in the run-up to their destruction.
In contrast to the anger and wickedness that turns people into enemies, God inspires us to love each other, to be friends, to help each other, to lift each other’s burdens, to work together towards salvation. Moroni is a shining example of this kind of charity. In Moroni 1 he introduces his final writings by saying that the Lamanites are actively hunting down Nephites and believers. They put to death anyone who will not deny Christ so Moroni wanders “withersoever I can for the safety of mine own life” (Moroni 1:3). Despite this extreme hardship, Moroni decides to write “a few more things, that perhaps they may be of worth unto my brethren, the Lamanites, in some future day” (Moroni 1:4, emphasis added). The Lamanites literally want to kill Moroni and he is still concerned for the welfare of their souls and souls of their descendants.
This is what the Gospel of Jesus Christ points us toward: friendship, love, desire for the salvation of others. God wants us to love others––even our deadliest enemy––enough to labor for their salvation. Satan would turn us all to enemies. God wants us to share, be friends, serve one another, and experience joy together.
As I read in Ether 14 about the curse on the land, I remembered a related experience I had a few years ago. In Ether 14 the Jaredites have become so wicked that they are on a crash-course for total destruction. The “curse on the land,” as Ether and Moroni call it, resulted in material possessions disappearing: “if a man should lay his tool or his sword upon his shelf, or upon the place wither he would keep it, behold, upon the morrow, he could not find it” (Ether 14:1).
Whether this means that people were stealing each other’s stuff or something else, I’m not sure. But a few years ago, when we first moved to our current state, things started disappearing from our car. It culminated (for me) in the theft of my iPod. It feels really trivial now and I’m a little embarrassed to admit, but I was really mad about it. For years. I used to listen to music every day on it. All my favorite music was there. I also had recordings of myself singing on my mission, recordings from a choir I sang with, favorite audiobooks. Suddenly I didn’t have any of it anymore. I had to accept that I would never get it back.
I take the history from Ether as a warning that the “curse” could come back. Certainly theft is a major problem in our society and it will probably only get worse. But the warning I really took to heart this time is to let go of material things. Jesus taught, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21, NT; 3 Nephi 13:21). I really treasured my iPod. The length of my bitterness (and anger at my husband for not locking the car) should have been a big red flag to me that my heart wasn’t in the right place.
I am trying to change my attitude toward material possessions and change my heart to treasure my family, my faith, and my God more than anything else in the world.