In Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus an angel stood before the shepherds, “and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Do not be afraid is on the lips of many throughout the world primarily because we are afraid. “The death cult of ISIS, a fanaticism of faith without love, has manifested itself in recent bombings in Paris and Mali where any idea of love and compassion is ignored completely all in a quest for the domination of a twisted medieval form of religion.” (Bryan Taphouse) And in random slayings in our own country we are indeed afraid. Friends of mine from Montana in the real estate business say people from California are moving to the “Big Sky Country” to be safe from terrorists’ attacks, either foreign or homegrown.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, says that in times like this fear is real, and he shares that fear. He writes, “Our instinct tells us to be afraid. The fight-or-flight mentality takes hold. At the present moment, many across our Church and our world are grasped by fear in response to the terrorist attacks that unfolded in Paris. These fears are not unfounded. We can and should support law enforcement officials who are working hard and at great risk to protect us from crime and keep us safe. And yet, especially when we feel legitimate fear, our faith reminds us ‘Be not afraid.’ The larger truth is that our ultimate security comes from God in Christ.”
On a gentle Christmas morning it is not fear that we would like to recall. We want to be reminded of God’s presence in our lives as was seen in Jesus. We want to see beyond fear – to know that ultimately God has the whole world in God’s hands. We don’t want to lose our desire to love, to work for justice and peace. We don’t want to give into our fears and hide – to build walls around ourselves to be protected in isolation. Somehow we have to learn the courage that the baby Jesus learned as an adult – to go forward in love even if it would mean carrying a cross. Our courage doesn’t encourage us to seek martyrdom in death seeking epidemics,
as Nietzsche described the activity of fanatical Christians, but rather to live beyond fear to live out the demands of love and justice at whatever the cost.
I am personally no example of that kind of courage. Only in my naïveté was I able to make stands for racial justice and the end of the Vietnam War. I am a better follower than a leader. But perhaps that is the model we are meant to take. To follow the model of Jesus as we push forward to overcome evil with good, to know love as the greatest force of divinity, and to trust that in God’s time, “All will be well.”