Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Cancels Fear

This Christmas comes at the right time. There was one theme running through that first Christmas. Zechariah heard it. Elizabeth heard it. Mary heard it. Joseph heard it. Shepherds on windy hillsides heard it. Wise Men from far away heard it. Two little words: “Fear not.”

Sometimes it was three words: “Be not afraid.” That was the essence of that first Christmas. Strange words. The world was awash in hatred and injustice. Rome ruled their land with an iron hand. Every male child under two was murdered by Herod’s command. There was no room in any inn unless you were wealthy. It was a dark time. And it was a hard world. And this was the setting of those unlikely words: “Fear not.”

Our country needs to her those words. “Fear not.” Someone has said there is more fear among us than there was after September 11th. Strange. Gun sales are going through the roof. Assault rifles especially. Political candidates are fanning the fear flames. Pundits on TV of all persuasions tell us over and over that this is a troubled time and we are besieged. The social media whether it be Facebook or Twitter and all those others have not helped. They keep saying: Everything nailed down is coming loose. Fearful people need a scapegoat. Yesterday it was the Samaritans and other outsiders. It was the Jews, not once but again and again. It was the Indians and the Irish and the Italians and people from the Orient. It was Yankees or Southerners—take your choice. Sadly now it is still the poor and the gays and the non-Christians, the Hispanics and a multitude of refugees. Towering above them all are those hated words—Muslim and ISIS. As if they were synonymous. Churches as a whole have sung carols and told stories about no room in the inn—not even thinking about the implications today. Those politician that yell the loudest and spew out the most hate seem to be drawing most of the crowds. Have we lost our minds or our courage or especially our faith? Dangerously these rivals for President are fanning the flames of hate and many have bought into the message.

Christmas calls us back to a better way. ”Fear not” the angel said over and over. What can those simple words from a far-distant time and land teach us? Someone has said that Paul talked about faith and hope and love—and love was the greatest thing in the world. No, someone else wrote: Hope is the greatest thing in the world. She may be right. Hope shatters fear. But so does faith and love.

Let us recover from amnesia. We are not the first people who have faced hard times. In fact, looking back at our own history we have been here before. Coming across the water hoping to find freedom and safety. Wars with England. Slavery. The Civil War leave 500,000 dead. Lynchings. Incarcerating Japanese. Segregation with our dogs and water hoses and billy clubs. War over and over. Deacons standing in church doors and shaking their heads to blacks. Let us remember that, as the old song goes, we really have come “through dangers, toils and snares.” And we must not forget that there really is a grace that is amazing for any  age—and that grace can still led us home. 

So this Christmas let us listen closely to what the angel said: “Fear not.” “Be not afraid.”  No Pollyanna talk. No evading the harshness of our world. No sunny optimism. Just knowing that in the middle of a trying time—fear really is not the answer. 

Last fall my family and I wandered into a restaurant in downtown Philadelphia. There was a room with a fireplace and a bar. And over the mantle these words were carved in wood and painted a golden color. They read:

                                       “Fear knocked at the door
                                       Faith answered. 
                                       There was no one there.”

I like to think that someone sitting there trying to drown their sorrows looked over their shoulder at these words. And I hope that all those servers with sore feet working mostly for tips would stop long enough from their busy-ness to ponder the words. And I can even envision the hungry customers, coming in out of the cold, warming their hands at the fireplace and reading the hopeful words: Fear knocked at the door, Faith answered, There was no one there.” 

And I would like all of us to remember the message is still “Fear not.” Which means it isn’t guns and it isn’t money and it isn’t some political candidates spewing out words of hate. No. It is faith. A very stubborn faith that remembers a harsh world and a dark night and a mad King. But more. A light that shone in the darkness. A light that the darkness can never put out. Then or now. Is it any wonder the angels said over and over: “Fear not.” “Be not afraid.”  

--Roger Lovette /


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