December 8, 2006

Fear Not

Aside from their shared focus on the birth of our Lord, a common denominator running through all of the "Christmas stories" in Matthew and Luke is the fact that every person who encounters an angel sent from God is at first terrified: young Mary, dreaming Joseph, the minding-their-business shepherds, and even the wise men, in their own way (who are at least frightened of Herod). Terror - not the emotion we tend to associate with lovely Christmastime.

There is a man who lives across the street from me. We hardly know each other, only exhchanging waves in those occassional moments when we are coming or going at the same time. I'm sure he's a nice guy. But then again, how do I know? He could be saint; he could be a monster. I cannot tell from afar. I can only imagine.

And so it for us, with God. Without the raw data of the ministry of Jesus, without the story of the incarnation told and retold, without the promise that what Jesus does, God does - - without these gifts, we are left only to our limited, broken imaginations in discerning who God is, or even if God is. God could be a capricious tyrant keeping score for all we know, if all we know is what we ourselves know. There might be good reason to be afraid. As they say in the movies, "Be afraid, be very afriad."

Yet one also notes that in every narrative in the birth stories, the sent-angel is quick to say to each huddled hearer: "Do not be afriad." Are you kidding? Their worlds have just been ripped open! Yet the announcement that Messiah is coming, that he will bring God's unspeakable peace, that his work and the Father's work are one in the same … this news gathers up our terror and sends it packing, while we ourselves follow Jesus "home by another way."

"Do not be afriad." Maybe that's what we believers should being saying to one another this time of year, instead of the prefunctory "Merry Christmas." For the one whose birth we celebrate, and whose coming again we anticipate, is the one who shows us the very face of God -- a face, it turns out, turned toward our redemption, not our demise.

Thanks be to God.