Do Not Be Afraid

Bryce Wandrey listens to the song of the angels 

Mohammed misses his home in Syria. “I have many memories,” he reflects,” studying at my desk, watching films, evenings with my family, the tea we drank. Leaving my was a bad feeling when it was not a choice.”[1] Mohammed is just one example of a refugee who had hopes: a hope of finding a new country, of living amongst a new people, of integrating and becoming one of those people. But he is also an example of the fears that refugees have: fears of whether they will be able to integrate, fears of prejudice, fears of being an outsider. Mohammed, like so many, came from Syria and has dwelt, and is dwelling, amongst a new people. He is a modern example of a phenomenon that is not just widespread but centuries’ old: an example of someone who came to live among a people who maybe wouldn’t recognise him, who maybe would not accept him, who maybe would not allow him to become one of them.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us” (John 1.14). And with that dwelling, as with so many dwellings, there was hope. With the Word incarnate dwelling amongst us, we have hope in the face of our fears. We have hope because the light has come into this world.

This is what we celebrate at this time of year: that God came to dwell amongst us, as one of us, in Jesus of Nazareth. We celebrate that God blessed Mary and Joseph, and that he blessed the world through his Son. We celebrate that we have an Immanuel, a God with us. And we have hope: we hope in this person who came to dwell among us. We give thanks for the hope that he gives us: a hope of reconciliation, of peace, of justice and of life everlasting. We give thanks that we can proclaim hope in the face of fear.

“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’ (Luke 2.8-10). “Do not be afraid.”

“Do not fear”: It is a message that resounds throughout the gospel stories that we have of Jesus. We may think of it first echoing out of the tomb that is empty, for he is risen on Easter morning. But before that we hear, “Do not be afraid” accompanying the message, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” And before that, “ not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” And before that, “Do not be afraid Mary…for you have found favour with the Lord.” It resounds throughout the story, this Christmas greeting: “Do not fear.” And it resounds even more loudly in a world where, over the past year to 18 months, we have witnessed some who would like nothing more than to capitalise on our fears, to use our fears as a crafty currency to gain power. What we need to hear is the Christmas greeting all over again: Do not fear. More importantly, we need to live out the fearless life we have in Christ.

The 2015 Man Booker prize winner - Marlon James - wrote at the end of last year, “This was the year that fear nearly won.” Is this the year, 2016, that fear did win? There is little doubt that some politicians and media moguls are playing directly into the hands of those who would love nothing more than to find us trembling in a corner, unwilling to even look up, all because of fear. Not only do we have groups trying to make us fearful through terror and violence but we also have others trying to use our fears against us and to their advantage. While fear is natural it is also dangerous. Especially when it starts motivating our decisions, especially our big decisions. How many good, lasting decisions have we made out of fear? Fear is like anger; it motivates us, at times motivating us to act when we normally wouldn’t. But it can also paralyse us and cause us to allow terrible things to happen that we never thought were possible.

Could the Christmas message be needed any more than it is now? The message, “Do not fear.” Why not? Because God has come to dwell amongst us. God is with us, dwelling with us. And because of that dwelling, that indwelling, that incarnation of God in humanity, there will be peace on earth, there needs to be goodwill to all.

Because of this, we shouldn’t listen to the fear mongers; they want to exploit our fears for their own gain. They want to convince us that peace is an illusion, that love is futile, that fear should be the real motivator of our decision making. But the angel tells us something completely different. The angel tells us, “Do not be afraid.” Instead of fear, hear the Christmas message of “Peace on earth and goodwill to all.” The message borne by the child in Bethlehem, delivered throughout his life, from the cradle to the cross to the empty tomb. The Christmas message says that instead of wrath and vengeance and fear what we really need is forgiveness and reconciliation and love.

It is only too easy to collapse under the pressure of fear and to allow it to govern our motivations and decisions. It is easy; it is also self-serving. ‘Post-truth’ is the term that has been coined to evoke our fickle, dangerous age, but surely this is just a different way of saying that we are inching towards a fear-based reality. Christmas, and its message wrapped up in a child in swaddling clothes, has come at the right time: Do not be afraid. Do not allow fear to be the answer, do not allow others to exploit your fears. Do not be afraid—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

We need our confidence renewed in the hope that God is at work amongst and through us. We need to hear once again that God desires peace for this world but needs peacemakers. That God desires mercy for this world but needs us to be merciful to one another. That God is dwelling amongst us with peace and goodwill for all. We need a renewed energy and faith to know that love always defeats fear. Fear can push love to the boundaries. But fear cannot extinguish love. Love conquers all, it is the greatest. Love must be our motivation and our message.

The birth of the Christ child can give us the hope and confidence to turn a deaf ear to those who preach fear instead of love. In the light of Christ, we can take forth the message of Christmas: Do not fear, for the celebration of this child’s birth once again brings peace and goodwill to all. And we can incarnate that message and be peacemakers, be merciful and be God’s messengers, proclaiming “Do not be afraid.” Amen.

[1] Syrian refugees in the UK: ‘We will be good people. We will build this country’ by Amelia Gentleman from The Guardian Tuesday 26 May 2015