Musing 12.18.20


The first human response to the events surrounding the birth of Jesus was terror. “Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them (the shepherds), and they were terrified.” (Luke 2:9). The King James has “sore afraid.” It is not the last time that human beings respond to God with fear. There is fear at the empty tomb (Mark 16:8; Matthew 28:8). Actually, fear is a common response to the appearance of the divine in human affairs. Fear does not show up in many Christmas cards or carols. We wish people the love of Christmas and the peace of Christmas, but not the fear of Christmas. There are Advent candles for hope and joy, but not fear. What is the role of fear at Christmas?

We tend to be bundles of fears. The political tension and the virus have increased our fears and magnified them. We fear for our health and our nation, we fear for our jobs and our families. We fear rejection, shame, crime, growing old, the night, the light, pain, disease, criticism, failure, pollution, climate change, poverty, homelessness, loneliness, the stranger, death, and extinction. While the shepherds would add God to the list, would we? We fear so many things, but not God.

Karl Barth wrote, “Christmas without fear carries with it fear without Christmas.” That is provocative. What I think he was driving at is this. Until we come to terms with the reality of God in the world, we shall be a bundle of fears without God. This reality obliterates any sense of control we may have, and we tend to interpret this lack of control as a threat to our existence. God is seen, as we tend to see any stranger, as an entity that invades our space – an enemy intending to judge and destroy us.

I have this picture of the shepherds sitting in the field fearing many things: hunger, unemployment, the future. Then the divine appears, and that big fear replaces all the other fears. Coming to terms with this new fear overrides all the others. Their fears undergo a radical transformation in light of this one fear. This event hacks at the roots of all the other fears.

I think we have had the experience of worrying about numerous things at one time. We hop from one fear to the next. Then something happens and that new fear makes us forget the other fears. These fears don’t seem as important. We might have worried about the rattle in the car, the toothache, getting the taxes done. Then we are told that we have an inoperable tumor. That one fear overrides all the others.

Christmas without fear carries with it fear without Christmas. The shepherds realized that God is real. Sometimes it is initially fear that makes something real. It is taken with utmost seriousness. They realized that God is real-er than all their fears. It was God that had to be dealt with. Until they did, they would be fears without God. They needed to come to terms with God’s presence in the world and their lives. What do they learn about that presence?

“Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you this day in the city of David, a Savior.” (Luke 2:10). God is not going to punish us and add to our fears. God is coming to free us from our fears. GOD WILL BRING LIFE.

“Do not be afraid; for to you is born.” We matter to God. God takes us seriously. The light of God shines in our darkness. GOD WILL BRING HOPE.

“Do not be afraid; for to you is born this day.” Now. God is present today. GOD WILL BRING JOY.

The God who is feared comes not to destroy us but to love us. God comes not to diminish us but to elevate us.

When the angel tells the shepherds that the sign of this Savior is a baby, this is a sign that the divine is not invading their world to destroy them. Just the opposite. As Martin Luther preached,

Divinity may terrify. Inexpressible majesty will crush. That is why Christ took on our humanity, that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor he should console and confirm.

See how God invites you in many ways. [God] places before you a Babe with whom you may take refuge. You cannot fear him, for nothing is more appealing to [humanity] than a babe. Are you affrighted? Then come to him, lying in the lap of the fairest and sweetest maid. You will see how great is the divine goodness, which seeks above all else that you should not despair. Trust him! Trust him! Here is the Child in whom is salvation. To me there is no greater consolation given to [humanity] than this, that Christ became [human], a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most gracious mother. Who is there whom this sight would not comfort? Now is overcome the power of sin, death hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to the gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.

Have a blessed Christmas, full of LIFE, HOPE, JOY!

Be safe and well.