Christmas

Christmas: Do Not Be Afraid

Christmas: Do Not Be Afraid
Art by Diana, age 10, Evangelical United Methodist Church in Ecuador. From the 2021 Prayer Calendar.

Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-14, 15-20

“Do not be afraid.” How many times have you received a call and looked at the name or number with trepidation, only to hear “I’m not calling with bad news” or words to that effect? Perhaps we ought not be surprised that this is the way God’s messengers greet the shepherds (Luke 2:10) and how they greeted Zechariah.

However, the stories themselves could not be more different. In Zechariah’s case he was a faithful priest and might be expected to receive messages from God, especially because he was “on duty” in the Lord’s sanctuary when the angel spoke. Apparently, this is not what Zechariah expected, nor did he expect that his family would be part of heralding the coming of God’s anointed.

In the case of the shepherds, they were not in a place deemed “holy” by religious authorities, nor were they credentialed to hear and interpret messages from God. Far from it. Shepherding was not a respected occupation. Their living situations were primitive, and the work was constant.

What better way to demonstrate the barrier-breaking message that the angel delivers to the shepherds? Good news for you and for all people! (Luke 2:10)
Consider also the different reactions to the message. Zechariah asks how he can be “sure” of the message, as he and his wife were both elderly. By contrast, the shepherds decide to go to Bethlehem and see. They went quickly, presumably while it was still dark, risking the streets in a town full of strangers gathered for the census. Far from waiting to be sure, they acted. 

Much is Uncertain

In these days, when so much is uncertain, there is a yearning to know that something that has been planned will happen. Will we be able to gather indoors? Will we be able to sing together? Will the General Conference be held in person in 2022? Will violence rear its ugly head in our streets, our schools or other places where we should be protected?

We know from our lived experience that some of our best plans and highest hopes have had to be set aside and that the debate about what is appropriate for protection and what simply escalates violence is often heated. Surely it is clear that “business as usual” will not help us see new possibilities and make new choices in our new circumstances.

Perhaps like the shepherds, we need to be willing to get up and move in a direction. To listen for God’s call, to recall God’s promise to bless the whole world, and to recalibrate our actions to see God’s hand at work. The shepherds consulted with each other and moved together. Discerning where God is moving, consulting together and acting together, is a crucial part of the sisterhood of United Methodist Women.

The shepherds not only confirmed the angel’s witness through their own observation, they also shared what the angel had said. We don’t know who heard their testimony — Luke tells us that “everyone who heard it was amazed” (Luke 2:18) — but we do know that Mary kept these things in her heart and mind.  What a blessing this story must have been to her in some of the hard days to come!

How unexpected it must have been for those who heard this testimony from the shepherds. Shepherds had neither the status nor the platform for sharing such an important message. But they did have a testimony of God acting to bring peace and good news to all.

Listening

Who is it in my life that I might need to listen to? Our cultural perceptions of what makes a person an “expert” are part of what needs review. We know that moving toward gender balance on boards of directors, reviewing bodies and even testing subjects changes outcomes. We know that the same is true of racial diversity, socioeconomic status and other lived experiences. Who might I need to learn to listen to? How can I learn to bring curiosity and wonder to the process of learning from people whose experience is different than my own? Am I really open to being “amazed” at the witness of how God is speaking by someone who offers their account of something that I don’t experience myself or that is hidden from my view?

Still, it’s not unreasonable to seek assurances that we have understood correctly. If we go off track, it can be upsetting and embarrassing. The disciples—John the Baptist, Mary the mother of Jesus, Martha and others—had their own experiences of being called and moving in a direction, as well as “checking in” or being redirected through the course of their discipleship. And so have faithful followers ever since. Can we trust God to do the same for us? To guide along the way? If so, we will have the confidence to take steps toward a fresh experience of good news, confident that God does not call us and leave us to our own devices, but walks with us as we point the world toward the abundant life that is God’s desire for each person and for all of creation.

God’s Message of Love

God’s message of love through Jesus’ birth is a story all of us can tell and live, not just the credentialed and those deemed experts. For us, as United Methodist Women, we think about how God’s love is at work in our sisterhood of grace — learning together, working together, listening to each other and working for good in the world. Each member’s action for justice, giving and praying and the impact of our work together is also a way of telling the glory of God, is a witness to God’s love and desire for peace and justice for all. Perhaps someone is rejoicing today because of the power of this witness. 

May we also see God at work in more places and in more people. May we be reminded and inspired to see afresh the good news of God’s love and God’s moving the world toward abundance and blessing that God intended from the beginning. Then, like the shepherds, may we too return home praising God for all that [we] have seen and heard. (Luke 2:20)


Harriett Jane Olson is General Secretary and CEO of United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 12/22/2021 12:00:00 AM

Give Thanks. Give Now.


Advent 2021

November 28: First Sunday of Advent
December 5: Second Sunday of Advent
December 12: Third Sunday of Advent
December 19: Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 24: Christmas Eve
December 31: New Year's Eve