The admonition “fear not!” runs, in one form or another, through scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The world 2000 years ago, just as today, was a place where there were things to fear. Armies, enemies, disease, betrayal, destruction, death! The Roman Empire was built on fear… thus crucifixion as a punishment for crimes against the state, a torturous death to be feared.
In the past decades the culture of fear in the United States has been constantly ratcheted up. Fear caused us to unjustly intern the Japanese Americans during the WWII. We were to fear the “communists” among us after WWII. We were told to fear Soviets and the Chinese in their quest for power. We have been warned to fear those who are not “like us” whether that is racial, affectional preference, or differing political ideology. We are to fear the intention of others, fear the erosion of our value, fear the content of textbooks to the extent of massaging history to make it more palatable. We are told extraordinary measures are needed to protect our electoral system from fraud even when instances of such fraud are rare and minimal. That this fear is not in proportion to threat can be seen in the fact that even as crime statistics nationally keep falling the American people become ever more fearful of crime and spend ever more money on security systems, guns, and other means of protection from a threat which is decreasing.
We are now observing the latest fear mongering. Fear is portraying those fleeing from civil war and destruction as potential terrorists. We are being told to fear immigrants even when the reality is that most violence that occurs in this nation is done by US citizens and the overwhelming majority to them native born. Placing upon ourselves the mantle of fear and distrust darkens our world and gives us lenses of distrust and apprehension through which to see the world. Fear is the winter of our emotions leaving us cold and unfeeling toward others.
No wonder the message of scripture is “Do not be afraid…” which I suspect might be better translated “Do not be locked in fear.” The world contains some things to be feared but it is not a meant to be a fear filled place. To be fear filled cuts us off from that which is good and joyous and life-giving because we are too busy watching for the evil and treachery we fear.
The message of the angels to the shepherds, the message of this host sent from God, is do not be locked in fear! And implied in the message is this connection- if you are locked in fear you won’t find the good news for all people that hides in plain sight in a stable in Bethlehem. If we fear others we won’t find the kindness, the generosity, the gifts they bring to us. The depth of our life and our spiritual growth will be stunted if we allow ourselves to be locked in fear.
Advent and Christmas are time to prepare ourselves for receiving the good news that while we may want to be cautious we do not want and cannot afford to allow the culture of fear to seize us and hold us in its grip. We need to free ourselves from grip of the empire of fear in order to live into the kingdom of God and to see the world not as a Pollyanna but through the values and the lens of the Gospel. After the Magi left, according to Matthew’s Gospel, Mary, Jesus and Joseph were refugees fleeing from Herod’s kingdom going to Egypt. Would we have denied them access to safety because of our fear?
“”Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…”