By Tom Ehrich

"Got any big plans for tonight?" asked my physician.

"Stay home," I replied with what I hoped was genial irony, not attitude.

So is everyone else, he said.

That isn't exactly true, of course. Over 1 million people will gather in Times Square for the dropping of the crystal ball. Restaurants and taverns around the country will be full of revelers.

Whether we party or stay home, I suspect we all will have thoughts about the year just ending and some hopes about the year to come. It has been a strange and pivotal year.

I call it "The Year of Fear." It was the year when frightened people, especially frightened white men and women, became the go-to constituency for demagogues hoping to seize power. Who knew that "the land of the free and home of the brave" would have so many people giving up on freedom because fear had vanquished their courage?

Fear of dark skin, fear of immigrants, fear of Islam, fear of terrorists, fear of being forcibly disarmed, fear of science, fear of knowledge, fear of truth, fear of the Gospel, and, at bottom, fear of life itself -- so many fears, so many fearful people, so many exploiters of fear.

And the ones of whom these constituencies should be afraid, the ones actually doing damage to their lives, the ones who disdain them and would take away their freedom -- the oligarchs trying for takeover of the nation -- get a free pass.

Strange year. Strange convergence of bad people eager to do bad things, while good people stay silent in their own outposts of fear.

But still we hope. Still we believe that God isn't done with America. Still we believe that common sense will prevail;, as it has in the past, and a basic optimism in the American spirit will reassert itself. Still we make plans for the future, even though the bad folks will do everything possible to deny that future.

My own hope for 2016 is that churches will wake up and resolve to stop dying by doing the one thing that will lead to living, namely, to serve the world, rather than themselves. I pray that this will be the year when preachers risk everything to speak truth to power and to lead their people boldly forward in mission.

Rather than give in to fear of change, fear of offending big givers, fear of challenging long-timers, this will be the year when faith communities get it together. They will realize that the Sermon on the Mount is what God wants, not tradition or finely calibrated expressions of loathing. They will put money into people, not facilities. They will stop pursuing noblesse oblige and instead simply welcome, feed, give, care for all people because they are neighbors.

In 2016, I hope, we will stop whining, stop complaining, stop beating up on clergy, stop being so frightened. Jesus said, "Don't be afraid." The "Year of Fear" is a massive trespass on the Gospel. Enough of that. It's time for courage.

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