Countdown to Christmas: Day 22. "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks "
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
Fear not," said he for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind
"glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.”
Where is dread seizing your troubled mind this season?
I have a friend who was just laid off from his job this week. The uncertainty is troubling.
An acquaintance just learned a relative was the driver in a fatal accident. The trauma is dread-inducing.
Another friend is still dealing with the deep hurt dealing with a personal betrayal. The fear is that the wound won’t heal; the anger will never subside.
“Fear not.” It’s a recurring theme throughout the Christmas story. When an angel appears to Mary, it’s “don’t be afraid.” When an angel appears to Joseph, it’s “don’t be afraid.” When a crowd of angels appear to the shepherds, they say “fear not.” And this declaration has time/space layers to it.
Don’t be afraid here, now. This makes sense. No one in the story appears to have regular interactions with heavenly messengers. Apparently, none of these angels scheduled appointments for these appearances. They just ambush the mortals with their majesty and their message. Naturally, the angels calm the humans down so they can receive a message from God.
Don’t be afraid later, there. The angels aren’t delivering musical telegrams; they come with very specific instructions. To Mary: carry the Christ-child. To Joseph: stick with Mary. To the shepherds: go to Bethlehem and see this thing that God has done.
“Fear not.” It’s not a patronizing, calming gesture. It’s a contextualized encouragement. Don’t be afraid of the message; don’t be afraid to carry it out. The message isn’t “Don’t be afraid; everything’s going to go great.” Mary still faced an uncomfortable trek to Bethlehem and never did get that private birthing suite for her delivery. Joseph had to navigate the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy and needed to help his wife and infant son flee to Egypt for their lives. The shepherds got to announce the first Christmas. And then, they got to go back to their financially uncertain, less than glamorous, life of shepherding.
One author says courage is not the absence of fear, but rather it is “fear walking.” Everyone in the first Christmas story seems to put their mission in front of their fears. The good news of Christmas isn’t that fear is eliminated, but that Christ’s arrival emboldens us to walk through it.