“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them,
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…” Not unlike the “shepherds keeping their flock by night” of 2,000 years ago, this angelic message continues to challenge our human reality today. “Do not be afraid.” Really? Have you seen all the pain, injustice, brokenness around us God? “Do not be afraid” – How often are these echoing Biblical words of assurance, silenced or drowned out by the voices of anxiety, impatience, anger, confusion, disappointment, and you guessed it – fear?
Over time I’ve reflected on the many ways fear often stops us – servants and leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ, from daring to step out in faith. Fear is what often does not permit us to model Christ-like presence in the midst of human dilemmas and human injustice. Fear is what often emotionally and spiritually paralyzes us, causing us to shut down and thus, allowing us to do nothing. Above all however, unbridled fear does not allow us to see what new possibility God has before us.
Yet as we all know, fear is an emotion that is as much a part of our lives as joy. Fear is a signal that something is not comfortable or familiar; that there is something threatening our status quo. I’ve learned that fear itself is not the issue. The issue is how we respond to our fear. Will our faith and actions be shaped by our fears? Or will our fears be shaped by our faith?
This is where the Christmas message enters. Christmas is that moment when we are again called to reaffirm our understanding that it is precisely in this place – the place of fear, that God’s messengers break into and speak to us. It is in this place that we are assured that God will not abandon us. We are reminded that God faithfully acts in the most unexpected way – the way of the infant child Jesus, to bring justice, healing, redemption and salvation for humanity. The Christmas message compels us to be a people of courage and hope. It compels us to see possibilities where once there were none. That is why we make this pilgrimage to the manger year after year.
As “modern-day shepherds” leading our many contemporary flocks, we too are invited to again hear and embrace the familiar message of the angel voices. We are invited to let their words of God’s assurance break into the midst of the complex challenges of ministry – of stewardship, discipleship, care giving, evangelism, mission and more. We are invited to let their message break into our minds and hearts so that we might be a prophetic people challenging and working for all that is wrong around us. We are invited to let their sounds challenge the sounds of our deepest fears and concerns, so that we can be a people and leadership of hope.
My prayer for us this Christmas is that through the retelling of the sacred story, through the words and music of the carols and familiar Christmas hymns, through the welcoming of the Christ Child, that we will join our voices to the voices of God’s messengers. May we loudly and boldly be a witness that breaks into the shadows of fear that exist in this world.
May our voices and lives reflect the ancient message – “Do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”