It is as much a spiritual as it is a commercialistic sign of where our society is headed that even in the middle of September, before the first leaves on the trees begin to change color, that Halloween candy now makes its appearance on the store shelves… next to the Thanksgiving harvest symbols and pilgrims… and just down the shelf from Christmas decorations. Are people somehow celebrating all three holidays at once? Do folks sit down for candy corn-stuffed Thanksgiving turkey for Christmas dinner on Labor Day?
Perhaps it points to a fear, a “fear of missing out.” This “fear of missing out” is a phrase that has even coined its own acronym, “FOMO.” “Buy now, or you’ll miss out!” “Hurry, hurry, this offer is only on for the next two minutes!” “CALL NOW!” But what is it that we think we are missing out on? Trinkets? Toys? Tasty treats? Is it really the end of the world if these pass us by?
Truly, we should be more afraid of missing out on living a holy life - like the saints we celebrate; or missing out on the heart of gratitude that Thanksgiving is about; or more importantly letting the profound love of Our Infant Savior pass us by; or the ultimate tragedy - missing out on eternal life!
While the fears of missing out on these more significant things are largely out of our control, (we can't purchase them or secure them with a phone call), we do have control over how we deal with and approach them. You may be thinking, "Most of us have no idea when the hour of our own death may come… and Our Lord does warn us that we know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man will come, then isn’t this a cause for fear?” Perhaps, but God Himself tells us throughout Scripture, "Be not afraid" and we have this consistent theme of persistence and perseverance interwoven throughout Scripture. If we always persevere, and are always ready, then it is impossible to be caught unprepared.
“Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” This quote, most often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson, does contain a spiritual nugget of wisdom: if we want to live in the freedom of God as children of God, which St. Paul insists is possible in Christ, then we need to leave behind those things which are passing and which enslave us behind, and fix ourselves firmly upon the living God who changes not.
St. Paul is speaking in this context of sins of the flesh, or fleshly allurements (see the first part of Romans 8), but fear in itself can become an addictive and destructive drug all on its own, almost as much as the sins of the flesh, and so Paul focuses our attention to the antidote to fear (perfect love casts out fear) then transitions to “Destiny in Glory” and “God’s Indomitable Love in Christ” of our future in glory as well as our reason for hope in Christ. St. Paul is not giving us a Pollyanna-esque view, for he writes, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23). He also tells us that these sufferings aren't worth comparing to the glory to be revealed in us. Yet, if we are not experiencing in this life the full effects of our redemption, we might be tempted to give up on Christ or doubt our ability to follow Christ.
Well, the key to our solution is in that last phrase, “our ability to follow Christ.” If we depend simply on our own abilities, we will always “miss out” on Christ. We do not call God, we do not buy Him off a shelf, no! God first called us. Our inabilities and failures can cause our hearts to falter. To counter this, we need that great remedy of the virtue of hope, perhaps the least valued of the theological virtues. Yet, St. Paul urges us, “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (Romans 8:24-25). And this hope also is not based on ourselves but in the God who is Love, whose own Spirit helps us in our weakness, who even "groans" (prays) for us!
This is why I think the season of Advent is important: It helps to build in us that virtue of hope in the midst of darkness and a changing world with all its uncertainty and to trust in the God who loves us; who became a little Baby to save us. When we are children, we wait in joyful hope for Christmas and the Christ Child, for that blessed day when we can hold the Babe of the manger in our arms (and of course, enjoy all our presents).
But as we grow up, I think we become more attuned with that “Second Coming” aspect of Advent. We held the Christ Child firmly in our arms as children. Now as adult believers, we see how much we need God to hold firmly to us as His children. When St. Paul reassures us with, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” (Romans 8:35), he is not negating that anguish or distress or persecution will happen to us in this world. Rather, he negates that they can cause us to “miss out” on God and instead affirms that in all these things we are "more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).
So let us be ready- watchful in hope, waiting in trust, but above all, faithful to the One who loves us.