The Christmas story is certainly filled with feeling and emotion—Mary, Joseph and the Child in the stable setting; with joy—angels singing as they announce the birth to the shepherds; and generous gift giving—the Magi visiting and presenting their gold, frankincense and myrrh. However, there is another element in the story that the Gospels of Luke and Matthew present: it is the element of fear. The angel Gabriel tells Mary when she hears the news of God’s invitation to her, “Do not be afraid Mary;”
Joseph is told in a dream “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife;” the shepherds are told by the angel “Do not be afraid; we bring you tidings of great joy.”
We might ask, “Is there something that we should be afraid of?” Is it the child? Is it the miraculous power of God? Is it the presence of the Holy Spirit? Or perhaps, is it a combination of all these things and the challenges that this magnificent event of history will present to us?
I tend to believe that there is a certain anxiety in responding to the great challenges that the Christmas story offers us. Just think of it: God chooses to become a human being so that we might be able to come freely to the realization of God’s love and presence in our own lives and in our world. God chooses to become a human being so that we might experience more fully the bond between the human and divine.
In so choosing, Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, experiences all that we do: birth, joy and happiness, suffering, pain and death, all because God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son. And this God, through the life and teaching of Jesus, tells us that we should love one another as He loves us! We should be willing to give ourselves away for the sake of others as Jesus gives himself away for the life of the world.
I can understand being somewhat fearful of all the implications of this wonderful and sacred event. The sweet, gentle baby born in the humblest of circumstances will grow up to present a challenge to us to participate fully in the building up of the Kingdom of God by being people who will sacrifice much to achieve this end.
There is a Christmas carol that asks the question: “Mary did you know that this child you would deliver will soon deliver you? Did you know that He would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy will give sight to the blind? The dumb will speak, the lame will walk, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again. Mary did you know?” Did any one know?
But they all knew that somehow God was breaking into our world and the angels proclaimed that there was nothing to be fearful of; we should rejoice and be glad as we sing God’s praises and realize that human life would never again be the same. He shows us that vulnerability and human weakness is to be embraced with trust and confidence that God is indeed with us—Emmanuel.
The Child encourages us to trust Him; to acknowledge our own weakness; and to recognize that without His help we cannot survive and that joined to Him, love and peace will be given a chance. This Christmas, may we all be blessed with the faith that will recognize Him in the poverty of our own lives as Mary and Joseph, the angels, shepherds and the wise men recognized Him in the poverty of Bethlehem. And may we too heed the words of the angels: do not be afraid; this day we bring you tidings of great joy.
Merry Christmas and the choicest of God’s blessings in 2010!
Most Rev. Robert E. Guglielmone
Bishop, Diocese of Charleston