In Such a Time As This: “Do Not Be Afraid”

Christmas Reflection

In Such a Time As This: “Do Not Be Afraid”
People of African descent in a rural community of Brazil light candles for the Dignity Vigil. From the 2020 Prayer Calendar.

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

The shepherds were surrounded by the light of God’s glory and they were terrified. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that anyone would be terrified by an unexpected event that defied their expectations and understanding of how the world works. The messenger knows that the shepherds need to be reassured before they can hear the message, and so prefaces it with "do not be afraid.” The messenger then continues with news that really defies expectations; a message of peace and salvation — not just for the shepherds, but for all people.

The lectionary makes a connection between this message and Isaiah’s message that the people (of the Galilee, a land previously cursed) have seen a great light. Commentators say that Isaiah’s speech uses the past tense to indicate that God’s action in this regard is certain to occur. In Isaiah’s context, the prophet also points to the coming of peace and the people’s return to a life of justice and righteousness.

The Coming of Peace

For us, like those who heard Isaiah and the shepherds who heard the heavenly host, the coming of peace, salvation, justice and righteousness is greatly desired. But acting on the belief that this is what God is doing in the world requires us to discard our old expectations and understanding, and to put our wholehearted faith and trust in God. Can we see “regular” folks like you and me as people entrusted with good news and recipients of God’s message? We would need to shake the dust off our hope and discard any sense that the familiar injustices are the best we can expect. We will need to see the glory of God surrounding us — in creation, in our companions on the journey and in our call to act in the world in a new way.

Our celebration of Christmas invites us to join the witnesses to Isaiah’s testimony and the shepherds, confirming all that the angels have said. To look for and work for shalom — not just absence of conflict but the presence of justice; to live righteous lives — standing alongside all of creation working toward wellness and freedom. We can look to the beginning chapters of Isaiah and to the Song of Mary to see some of what this entails.

It’s no wonder that we might also join the shepherds in being “sore afraid” at the prospect. Living out our baptismal vows, including “accepting the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever form they present themselves” will require us also to defy expectations from time to time.

Friends, do not be afraid. Emmanuel has come. Glory surrounds us. We can believe God’s words and walk in the light together.

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

Posted or updated: 12/23/2020 12:00:00 AM

Give Thanks. Give Now.

Advent 2020

November 29: First Sunday of Advent
December 6: Second Sunday of Advent
December 13: Third Sunday of Advent
December 20: Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 24: Christmas Eve
December 31: New Year's Eve


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