As we approach the celebration of the birth of our Savior, I consider one of the most frequent assurances in scripture: “Do not be afraid.”
It dots the Old and New Testaments. The Lord tells Moses “Do not be afraid” before making a covenant with him. Gabriel tells a terrified Daniel, “Do not be afraid.” And Gabriel tells Mary, who is troubled at being told she will bear a Child, “Do not be afraid.”
What does this say to you and me? What does it mean? It is not blanket prohibition, as if fear were a Jewish or Christian contradiction. At times, we have good reason to be afraid. When you lose your job after many years with the same company. In some of our cities, violence, crime and drugs are rampant. People are afraid when they have no access to healthcare; when they are hungry or homeless. Jesus was afraid in the garden, when He begged His Father not to let Him die.
How do we understand the Lord’s assurance, “Do not be afraid?” What is the positive side? Isaiah gives us a clue. The Lord will give you a sign: “A woman is to be with Child and shall bear a Son. His name means, God is with us.”
Here is God in our flesh and blood; God walking as we walk. Hungry, as we hunger. Tired, as we tire. God healing human illness with a touch, instilling courage into hopeless hearts. And yet, this God would be betrayed with a kiss, lashed with whips, crowned with thorns and nailed to a cross. But, He rose and ascended to the Father and He remains with us in the Sacrament on the altar.
So what does this say to fear? It tells us that God is not only in His Heaven, but with us, to save us. Not only from sin, but from fear.
What we have at Christmas is a terrible desire on God’s part to be with us. To be part of us. To be a part of our wins and our losses. Christmas should not be an end to all fear, but it should be the beginning of a fresh love for God, who became what we are, so we could be like Him.
This year, try to see the Christmas crib as a challenge; as an assurance. Kneeling at the crib should let you know God is with you. God is loving. God is caring. Look to the crib and then look to the cross and think, “All this, for me.” And, do not be afraid.