We have a knack for losing the plot around Christmas time. This is a season of anticipation and expectation; a time to dwell on the mystery of Incarnation with profound gratitude. But we get distracted. Whether it’s by the rampant consumerism of the season, the perceived escalation of a war on Christmas, or, now, the fate of a reality television star, we kind of forget what this season is about.
Don’t get me wrong, there are important implications in all of those examples, but they seem to become all-consuming matters. As a result there is a lot of angst in the air. There is a lot of defending of turf. In other words, Christians often spend this time of year drawing lines in the sand. Our unintentional message is often this: You are either for us or against us. That is a message borne out of fear and it is the kind of fear that transforms the gospel into something far weaker: a bludgeon or a fenced-in parcel of land that has to be defended violently.
But this season is not a time for fear. In the Gospel of Luke, one of the first things that God’s messengers say is, “Do not be afraid.” Now part of that stems from the fact that an otherworldly angel was bursting into decidedly ordinary lives. I can understand how sheer terror would be a natural result of a face-to-face chat with a glowing messenger of God.
Yet I also think that admonishment to not fear was a prologue to the message they were delivering. You can see this most clearly when the messenger appears to the shepherds:
Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.
- Luke 2:10, NRSV
Do not be afraid. This baby boy is good news of great joy for all people. That last part is key. It’s good news for everybody. Not just the religious or those that are in some way worthy. Nope. It’s for everyone, which is fantastic because I’m certainly not worthy. I don’t want to assume, but you might not be worthy either.
That is not news that causes people to act out in defensiveness. That is not news that makes people stomp their feet when they do not get their way. Yes, on down the line part of that news means we are going to have to change our ways. But that’s true of everyone. And lest we forget, often in the gospels the people that had to do the most changing were the ones that thought they were most solidly on God’s side. Heck, I go to seminary and God knows I have to do a lot of changing.
Ah! But I too am getting distracted. Good news of great joy for all people. That is the message that should sing beautifully form all that Christians do; especially in this time of year. Instead of calling for boycotts, pointing fingers, and causing social network ruckuses (ruckusi?), we should embody that good news.
That is not the majority of what I have seen of late. And that scares me. It scares me that many of us are acting out of fear. Don’t get me wrong, the world is a frightening place, but we are letting fear drift into our faith. The wires are getting crossed and the message is shorting out. Fear is not the gospel. Fear is not what the angels proclaimed. The good news is we are not to be afraid. God is with us.
So to the many good people that are frightened because they see the culture shifting away from them and are sincerely and understandably worried about what that means: do not be afraid. God is with you.
To homosexual men and women, to their friends and loved ones that are all rightfully hurt when they are compared to terrorists and those that commit bestiality or when people that claim to love you and love God are furious when you express that hurt: do not be afraid. God is with you.
To those that are in the minority, for whom old wounds are torn open when things like this happen: do not be afraid. God is with you.
To those that are worried that God is going to be torn away from the fabric of this country and believe we must fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening: do not be afraid. God is with you.
To those that experience true persecution the world over and yet it seems like the world never notices: do not be afraid. God is with you.
To those that have been abused, to those that feel abandoned, and for whom the pain of that is only heightened by this time of year: do not be afraid. God is with you.
To those that are lost, to those that are not sure how God could possibly love them, to every person that breathes and experiences so much in this world that brings fear: do not be afraid. God is with you.
Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. There is good news of great joy for all people. A Savior has been born to us and God is with us.