From The Rector
Fear Or Not?
Christmas is coming – Its almost here.
The familiar story hints at the ordinary; a young couple traveling to the husband’s ancestral home, a requirement of Roman authorities so that tax rolls would be up to date. This was not a vacation. This is not a civic duty in the way democratic societies understand voting. Mary and Joseph are not Roman citizens and the tax won’t maintain the roads. Most likely it will feed the occupying soldiers and pay a tribute to the Emperor. They were not alone. The story says that everyone was on the tax list. I imagine that the Romans were checking it twice.
In the midst of this forced journey, the baby is born. The backdrop is Empire, not snowflakes, and the accommodations are “make do,” not “well to do.”
The announcement of this birth is not made in the royal palace or at the governor’s headquarters, but to shepherds who were “guarding their sheep at night.” The announcement is unexpected and catches the shepherds by surprise. Like each of the other characters in this story – they are terrified. Neither Zechariah (John the Baptizer’s father), Mary, Joseph, nor these shepherds expected a divine messenger to interrupt their life and they were afraid, they were awe-struck.
The Angel tells them not to be afraid. This encounter won’t kill them, but will change their life. It does not say this, but I wonder. Were the shepherds who guarded sheep at night, being sent to guard the Lamb of God? They recovered from their fear and to the accompaniment of an angelic chorus went, and saw, and perhaps watched over the infant and his parents.
Like the shepherds then, each of us might have reasons to fear in our own day. Whether it is fearing loss of relationship or security, whether it is fearing a broader challenge to the environment, whether it is fearing for those who are homeless or are oppressed, the angelic message of Christmas meets us in our very real fears and invites us to do something different – to be not afraid – to act.
In all of the scenes surrounding Jesus, where a human is confronted with a divine message, the outcome is never about how the subject “feels,” but about what they do as a response. Mary and Joseph each said, “Yes,” and acted to love and nurture the child in their trust. When they were threatened by a tyrant, they found refuge. The shepherds acted by leaving their sheep and seeking the child in the manger.
I am sometimes afraid for the future, as I imagine each of us is, but I hear God calling me – calling all people of faith and good will – to act. We are called to act on behalf of those who are at greatest risk, those who are weak, disconnected, homeless, addicted, poor, grieving, or hopeless.
Join in joyful worship this Christmas with us, where we are learning to act in the face of fear, and step out in faith with the vulnerability and hope of the Christ Child.