Be Not Afraid
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, December 24, 2006
That’s more than enough to keep us busy, it would seem. Many people (many of us, perhaps) seem to live out our lives in fear. Some fear being alone; some fear pain; some worry about the future; others are haunted by something out of the past. Some of us are afraid of disease, or of death, or of losing those we love. All of us, at one time or another, experience the feeling of fear. It’s only natural. Fear can even be a very helpful feeling sometimes.
Even the Christmas story—this wondrous, golden take of “silent night, holy night,” and that “little town of Bethlehem,” and all those “angels we have heard on high,” is also—perhaps surprisingly, given its enchanted and divine connotations—a story chock full of fear.
When the angel appeared to Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth, telling him that his aging wife was going to have a son, he was afraid. He was afraid because angels were as little part of his experience as they are of ours. He was afraid because he was at the stage of life where men become grandfathers—maybe great-grandfathers—not fathers for the first time. The angel’s message to Zechariah wasn’t just, “You’re going to have a son, and his name will be John.” It was also: “Fear not.” Be not afraid.
Then, at the moment of the Annunciation, when the angel appears to Mary in Nazareth to announce that she, too, will bear a son, the first thing the angel says is: “Fear not.” Be not afraid. I am bearing news that will change your life—and change the world—but first of all: Fear not. Know that all will be well in the end.
To Joseph, an angel appears and announces: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife…”
Then of course, there’s the story of the simple shepherds on the slopes outside of Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth: An angel of the Lord appeared to them in the night, and the glory of the Lord surrounded them, “and they were sore afraid,” the Gospel of Luke tells us in the Revised Standard version of the Bible. “They were sore afraid.” They were so frightened that it hurt them physically. So what’s the first thing the angel says to them, to comfort them, and ease their pain? “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.” Fear not. Be not afraid.
How do we let go of all of our fears? How do we follow the angels’ admonitions to “Be not afraid!”?
By remembering, first of all, that we, too, are born children of the Spirit, as well as of the body. The great Unitarian preacher John Haynes Holmes of the Community Church in New York once wrote:
“Most of us are fleshly beings. We live in the world of physical sensations and material objects. But this is the world in which we can most easily be reached and injured. We delight in the body—but the body can fall sick, and be wounded, and suffer pain, and grow old, and in the end must die. We cling to money—but money can be stolen, or lose its value, or swiftly disappear. We spend a lifetime perhaps in accumulating property—but property can be dissipated, or destroyed, and finally at death must be altogether surrendered. What wonder, then, in such a world, we are unhappy and most of the time consumed with fear?”
But this is not our only world, Dr. Holmes reminds us. At Christmastime-- especially on Christmas Eve, perhaps-- that other world draws closest to our physical world, and the Word is made flesh and comes to dwell among us, and the very Earth is suffused with wonder and enchantment and the very glory of God. Then it is that we have our keenest inkling of this other world in which we live, and move, and have our true being.
This is, perhaps, the sacred truth at the heart of faith—not just the Christian faith we celebrate this evening, or the Jewish faith from which it arose-- but of all the world’s great faiths: Fear not. Be not afraid.
Fear not. For the Mystery is not our enemy. It may even be our friend. Our lover true. A holy parent who cares about us, and loves us, and dances for joy at the mention of our names.
“All shall be well,” the great 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich proclaimed, “and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Not “all will be a snap.” Not “all will be easy.” Not “all will be the way we want it to be.” But “all will be well.”
As long as we are connected with Life—through our individual lives and our love and creativity and our striving for meaning and wholeness—then we are part of a Holy Spirit from which we shall never be removed. And we are forever at home on a vast but friendly shore; at home in a universe who holds only the best for us at its heart.
For the Spirit that dwells at the heart of the universe dwells within us, as well. It is the torch; we are the candles kindled from that holy fire. Though the darkness of this world may surround us, we know that beyond the dark (and within the dark) there is that perfect love which casteth out all fear.