And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings…which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord”
In Ottawa, there is a street called Taffy Lane, and every year the neighbors try to outdo each other with Christmas Lights. People drive all over to walk down the street and take in the dancing penguins, the homes ablaze with every kind of Christmas decoration imaginable. I have done it, and it is sight to behold. If there is any time to go “all in,” it’s Christmas. We are extolled to buy extravagant gifts, to load up our dinner tables with bountiful meals, to go overboard with the lights on the tree. It’s a magical time of grand gestures. A time to be bold.
A time to “fear not.”
The angels in our Christmas story typically open their appearance with these two words: Fear not. The words come to mean something different to each of the characters who received a message – a fitting lesson for us even today.
The Angels use these words to represent all manner of fears that have paralyzed humanity: the fear that something wished for will never happen, the fear that we are not good enough, the fear that we are not strong enough, the fear that we are not brave enough.
The first “Fear not,” is delivered to Zacharia, while he is lighting incense in the temple, whose wife Elizabeth, despite her advancing age, will come to bear John the Baptist, who will usher in the advent of Jesus. The angel tells Zacharia ‘Fear not’ and comes to reassure him that his hoped for dream of a child will come true, to trust that things will work out.
The angel next speaks to Mary. “Fear not,” the angel says to this young woman, who considers herself quite ordinary and who is about to receive news that will forever change her world. “Fear not, for you have found favour with God.” In this moment, the angle comes to tell Mary that she must trust in her own inner strength, in her faith, and in her inherent value to bring a baby named Jesus into the world.
The angel appears then to Joseph, about to get news that his future wife will bear a child that cannot be easily explained. “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take Mary to be your wife,” the angle tells him. What fear is Joseph being asked to set aside? The fear of censure from society, the fear that he will not be able to face his peers, and that he will be judged poorly. The fear of breaking the rules. The fear of shame.
And finally, the angel comes to the shepherds, watching their flocks by night, shocking them out of the sameness of their existence. “Fear not,” the angel tells, for a great wonder is coming and you will witness it, if you follow this star to Bethlehem.” The Shepherd are being urged to set aside their fear of risk, their fear of chance, their fear of taking chances.
We can all relate to this. Our fears prevent us from speaking up when we should. They are what lie behind not so much what we do, but what we fail to do. They stop us from making the changes we should.
But an essential lesson of Christmas – this bold message of faith and hope – is that the angels are also speaking to us. Fear not, they urge. Know that you are strong enough. Know that you can be brave enough. Know that you are good enough.
This is how Mary steeled herself in her quiet moments, and carried on, bravely bringing her baby into the world, alone but for her new husband, in a manger. How Joseph broke with the patriarchy of his time, stood by her side, led her back to his hometown, and fulfilled the essential role he was called to. That is how the shepherds followed the star on a dark night. In this way, setting aside their fears, these beloved, but ordinary characters, changed their fortunes, and entered into a story that changed the world.
We may not, it’s true, get a visit from an angel. But perhaps, we fail to hear all the many, little ways that God tells us to Fear not. We know, when we act boldly, we accomplish the better parts of life. When we approach a grieving friend, we ask the question too many are reluctance to ask: How are you? Or when we come to a stranger’s aid, we have chosen to set aside the fear of getting involved, of stepping outside the crowd. And when we accept our own mistakes, our own flaws – and find that we are still loved – we are choosing not to fear, but to have faith, in ourselves and in others.
Fear not, the angels said to Mary, For God loves you.
Fear not, the angel said to Joseph, For God trusts you.
Fear not, the angels said to the Shepherd’s, for God will guide you.
That is the grand gesture of Christmas. It is the gift that the story leaves with us, and sets up all that is to come, and the journey that we, ourselves, will take in the year ahead.
Hear the angel calling you. And live boldly in faith, hope, and love.