Fear not! Do not be afraid!
Christmas Eve Meditation 2020
Fear not! Do not be afraid! Some version of these phrases are used over 100 times throughout the Bible and in almost every encounter with angels in the Gospels, a similar message is proclaimed.
When the angel comes to Joseph, the message is this, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,”
When the angel comes to Mary, the message is this: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
And when the angel comes to the shepherds in the field, the message is this, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”
Imagine hearing this message in a time heavy with grief, clouded by uncertainty, where the rulers of the day aim only for profit, power and property: Fear not! Do not be afraid!
Imagine hearing this message as an expectant young mother in a dangerous political climate, requiring a move right before the due date, with no space indoors for the birth and at least as far as the stories go, a bit of a lack of clarity about the status of her partner.
Do not be afraid.
It is of course a message for us in this moment too. As we are also in a time heavy with grief, clouded by uncertainty, where the rulers of the day seem to aim away, from the common good. I have heard how many of us are living in fear: fear of losing a loved one or the fear of now living without them, fear of catching the virus, fear of the future with ongoing economic hardship, fear of what this time is revealing about our inability to act collectively when we need to. We have much to fear.
And yet, what if this moment in history has offered us a special window, to shift things? Because we see what happens when fear is allowed to lead. What if that Christmas Star, the Great Convergence, the new voices being raised, what if our angels are saying to us this night, do not be afraid? Fear not!
What I mean, is that what if part of the magic of this sacred and timeless chronicle that we retell on this night, is remembering that the opposite of faith, just might be fear. Not unbelief, but being led by fear.
I am not saying that being afraid is bad, but living in fear is bad for our bodies and our lives. Science tells us that fear weakens our immune system, causing cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems and more. And here’s the other thing, fear and anger lead us away from the Holy, away from Love. Being led by fear leads to harm.
Bryan Stevenson, lawyer, social justice activist, writer, founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and law professor at New York University School of Law, wrote that “ Fear and anger are the essential ingredients of injustice, of oppression, of inequality.” He said, “Go anywhere in the world where people are being abused or mistreated, where their rights are not protected, and you’ll find people justifying those violations of rights with these narratives of fear and anger...”
Fear is one of the ingredients for the world we do not want. Perhaps, the opposite of faith, just might be fear, it just might be when we give in to our smallest selves, our angriest impulses, our worries. And maybe faith is being open, being willing, even when it is messy and hard and uncomfortable?
We often tidy up this Christmas story. But the true story of this night is that a young refugee family fled their home to protect their baby, leaving in the dark of night, not knowing exactly how it would unfold, but knowing for sure that if they didn’t go, their baby could be torn from her bosom. The true story is that Mary was an expectant young mother in a dangerous political climate, with no space indoors and still she had faith. It was after all a story of birth. In the words of the poet, Kaitlin Hardy Shetler, birthing Jesus, was the expulsion of blood
and smell of sweat,
the salt of a mother’s tears
onto the soft head of the Salt of the Earth,
This is a precious story of living through what is marvelous and messy: fear not!
That doesn’t mean she wasn’t still afraid, but I think it does mean that she didn’t let fear stop her, or lead her.
It’s okay to be afraid, but we must keep our hearts open and keep going, in the words of Audre Lorde, “When (we) dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether (we) are afraid.”
Maybe faith is being open, being willing to be powerful to use our strength in service of the vision we hold for our individual and collective lives, even when it is messy and hard and uncomfortable? We don’t need to know everything to know the path we don’t want to take is the one lead by: fear and anger. Keep going. Through the salty tears and the loneliness and the tired days and the hungry hearted nights and the annoyed spans of time, where there is overwhelm, know there is also Love because you are still showing up for all of it. Don’t worry if you are afraid, just don’t let your fears stop you from seeing wonder and hearing from angels. Beloved of God, Fear not!