I have read the Christmas story a few times in my life, actually, probably several times every year since my birth. Which adds up to hundreds of times. This year, so far, I have heard it twice and read it three times. And as is sometimes the case with stories from the Bible, I heard something new. I love it when God takes something as familiar as my own skin and makes it come alive. I listened to the story spoken and the words I HEARD over and over were “Fear Not.” The angel appeared to Zechariah and he said, “Fear not.” Then to Mary, he says, “Fear not.” In Joseph’s dream he says, “Do not fear.” As the shepherds were trembling in the fields came the same words, “Fear not.” It is not that I was unaware of these words, it’s just that they stood out in the hearing this year. In two different messages at two different churches in two different services, the words jumped into my ears as if they were louder than all the rest. The emphasis was striking to my mind and so I began to seek out why.
I guess I have always thought that angels have to say ‘fear not’ because they are pretty intimidating creatures. If you read the descriptions you will see what I mean. They tower over humans, have huge wings, they glow, and they carry swords of fire. Need I go on? Couple that with the fact that they just appear out of thin air…I am pretty sure I would be trembling too. However, as I have been rereading the story the past few days I have thought of these fearful responses in a new way. In each instance the angel says, ‘fear not’ then proceeds to say what God is about to do. Rather than soothing the reaction to the appearance of an angelic being, Gabriel is saying do not fear God’s ways. He is foretelling of things to come, and he is assuring them that God is in these divine and mysterious happenings. God knows that for them to remember these words when the going gets tough they will need a spoken word from an angel. Kinda hard to ignore that. And so, the things the angel says come to pass…God breaks through to the human realm in the form of a baby. Pretty spectacularly, but in a way that no one expected. In a way that seemed contrary to how they all thought the Messiah would come. The message, “Fear not” was a reminder that God’s ways are not our ways, and that things do not always look as they appear. Sometimes a silent night is far from silent.
I often wonder how it went after Jesus was born. I mean it was 30 years before he stepped into his ministry. Did all those folks who saw the angels think about the night when they were told not to fear? Did they wonder if any of it was real or if it was a figment of their imaginations? It seems to me that just before God establishes himself in our human world there is a message to fear not. He told the children of Israel not to fear as well as the disciples…from beginning to end he is telling his people not to fear. I think about the shepherds, and Mary and Joseph… and Zechariah who was struck silent because even when the light was speaking to him he questioned it. I wonder if the all those years they all waited for the words to come to pass if they quivered and quaked…or if they just forgot. I am curious if the fear was easier for the disciples to mask while the light was walking among them, and I question how quickly the panic got big in the garden. I guess my question to myself is….why am I so afraid all the time? What have I forgotten?
I fear for my children. I fear for my health. I fear for my finances. I fear for my country….I fear who will be elected and what they will do. I fear our enemies and what they have in mind. I fear the growing darkness in our world. Do you see a theme here? Fear rules. It grasps my thoughts and my heart. It tries to force me to pull away, to give up, to self-protect, or to fight shadows. It is not a pretty sight. It is the opposite of faith. The OPPOSITE. And I say, and try to convince others, that faith is an important facet of life. That if you just believe in the baby of Christmas that things will work out. That he is trustworthy and faithful and dependable. Yet my fears prove that I do not really believe the things I say. And even though I know how the story ends, and who will be the victor, I cower in the corner when things do not look the way I expect them to. I allow the darkness to be big. I sit and wonder where is the light? When will the light break through?
I have to admit I hope that it will be soon. I say, “Please God shine forth in the darkness.’” And he just looks at me…incredulous that I still do not get it. His mouth is open as if to speak to me, but he cannot find the words…and he knows I will not hear them anyway. Yet he tries again for the millionth time…slowly, as if to a small child, he says, “The light…MY light…is within YOU. I am waiting on YOU to breakthrough the darkness. I put my light inside you for such a time as this. YOU can dispel this darkness because the light within you is greater than that darkness in the world. You carry me…just as Mary did…within you. Ponder this thing in your heart. SEE with eyes of FAITH what you carry. You are a light bearer. Allow my light of love and hope to shine out. Let me use your hands and feet, as the expression of my heart of compassion. Shut your ears to the voices of darkness. Plug them up, and sing lalalalala if you have to…do not listen to the tumult. The noise of the day will try to drown out the truth and convince you that there is another way other than love. Do not believe it. Do not forget what has been spoken by my messengers over the ages. Do not forget what has been foretold. Listen to MY words to you this Christmas day, FEAR NOT. “