Do Not Be Afraid
One of the most frequent assurances in scripture is one you just heard from Matthew. Do not be afraid, it dots the old and new testaments. Before making a covenant with Moses, the Lord tells him, “Do not be afraid.” Gabriel tells a terrified Daniel, “Do not be afraid.” An Angel tells the father of John the Baptist, Zachariah, “Do not be afraid.” Gabriel said to Mary troubled at being told she is to have a child, “Do not be afraid.”
Shepherd’s startled by the Christmas glory that shone around them were told by Angels, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus tells Peter, fearful at an amazing net breaking catch of fish and the disciples thinking he was ghost walking on water, “Do not be afraid.” Then to the disciples at the transfiguration and Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, “Do not be afraid.” And so today an Angel assuring Joseph, “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” What does this say to you and me, do not be afraid? What does it mean?
It is not a 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, people are afraid because of guns, coke, and crack are kings in the streets. People are afraid when they have no access to health care, or health insurance. When they are hungry or homeless. People are afraid when they are addicted to drugs, alcohol, or afflicted with cancer or other serious illnesses. People are afraid when they are young and vulnerable.
Elderly and lonely, middle-aged and unhappy with their life. Wasn’t Jesus afraid in the garden of His agony when He begged His Father if possible not to let Him die? How do we understand the Lord’s ‘Do not be afraid’ what is the positive side of the coin? Isaiah gives us a clue, the Lord will give you a sign, a woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name Him Emmanuel, which means God is with us. Not simply everywhere as God must be. But with us in a unique way as never before.
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, nailed to a cross. Rising and ascending to the Father, yet remaining with us in the sacrament of 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. This is what the name Jesus means, remember the gospel, you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save this people.
Not only save us from sin, but also from fear. Neither God nor God’s angels are playing psychiatrist when they say, “Do not be afraid.” The gospels are not a mini-course therapy in dissolving fear. There has to be a certain amount of fear in life. Fear of going through a red light, fear of letting a baby drive the car. The gospel is concerned over those fears that paralyze me and destroy my oneness with God. The fear that keeps me from trusting in God.
The way that God trusted Himself to us. He trusted Himself to a teenage mother and a foster father. He trusted Himself to 12 friends. He trusted Himself to a people of His own creation who crucified Him. And He still trusts Himself to us as He comes to us resting in our hands or on our tongues. Just asking to be allowed into our hearts into, into our lives. What we have at Christmas is a terrible desire on God’s part to be with us to be part of us. To be part of our human condition, to be part of our losses.
Our recessions and disappointed and fractured relationships. To be part of the death we have experienced this year. Not only the death of a loved one, but all those lesser forms of death, lovelessness and loneliness. Christmas is not an end to all fear, but it should be the beginning of a fresh love. Fresh love for a God who became what we are so that we might become more like Him. This year, try to see in the Christmas crib a challenge, an assurance. A challenge to love somewhat as this child loved, terribly vulnerable, but always arms outstretched.
Try to feel the assurance of Emmanuel God with us. Christmas does not automatically cast out fear. Go to mass, carol like crazy, kneel at the manger and fear will evaporate. All the problems disappear, that may or may not happen. But being at mass, receiving your Lord. Kneeling at the crib should let you know, should let you feel that God is with you. God loving, God caring, so do not be afraid. For unto you is born a Savior, and His name shall be Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.”
Dostoyevsky, the great Russian writer, once wrote, “Love is a harsh and dreadful thing.” Harsh is being born in a stable and dreadful is dying on a cross with holes in your body. This Christmas kneel at the crib but then look up at the cross and think to yourself, all this for me, do not be afraid.