One of the most significant things that I learned as I was working on my graduate degree was a piece of wisdom about history and how we look at it. That piece of knowledge was the fact that no record of, or writing about, “history” is without bias. This even goes for the writers and historians who claim to be bias free. Very simply, if you are human, you have a point of view that is informed by all the things that you have experienced and they color the way you see and report things, like it or not. I think this truism has had a lasting effect on the way that we see and think about the Christmas story. We have a romanticized view of angels singing, cattle lowing and fabulously wealthy men bringing priceless gifts. We forget that from beginning to end the Christmas story is just a little crazy and played out by individuals who were all too human and just like us. It involved a pregnant octogenarian couple, an unwed mother in danger of being stoned, a guy caught in “the middle” who just wanted to end it all quietly, smelly, dirty poor people breathing germs in the face of a new born, crazy visions and dreams that showed up without the aid of alcohol or hallucinogens, strange celestial anomalies, messages supposedly from God and a crazy king bent on infanticide. Almost an opera!
The Christmas story and all of the events which surrounded it was quite simply full of turmoil, uncertainty and great danger for all of those involved. It was not a pleasant warm and fuzzy time. Lucky for us, though, that’s the good part. This story which transpired in the most unusual of circumstances is really a very human one and because of that it gives us tangible hope that no matter how crazy or unfair life is, we humans can survive it because God has not taken his eye off of each of us for one second. Think about it, in each of the most pivotal moments of this array of crazy occurrences God sends a personal messenger and the message is exactly the same. At the moment the priest Zechariah was trembling with fear at the angel before him he hears; “Zechariah, do not be afraid your prayers have been heard”. When Mary was told that she would bear the Son of God and expressed confusion, the message to her was; “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favor.” When Joseph was sweating bullets and trying to get himself out of a marriage with a girl who was not a virgin the message was: “Joseph Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.” Finally, when shepherds miles away were totally confused by crazy things in the sky they heard; “Do not be afraid. Listen I bring you news of great joy.” Clearly, the initial reaction of all the major players in the Christmas story was fear, plain and simple. Things are not normal, things are crazy weird, and things are scary, what do I do? Who among us has not had that thought at least once a day? All of the people involved in the happenings which brought God to earth were ordinary people who got spooked when their regular routines dissolved. How very human was that? Fear of the unknown and unfamiliar is a human trait. The fact, though, that these people were fearful is not the important part of the story. The lesson, rather, is in God’s constancy and His peoples’ reactions. The quote is exactly the same in each case, the Father’s assurance; “be not afraid”. God never sets us out on a limb without a backup. Take closer note that in each case the individual person is actually called by name. (“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Is 43:1) Each of these people would have been familiar with that Isaiah quote as part of their heritage and teaching that God is ever present and one of the most loving things he does is to call us by our very name as one more proof of his fidelity.
God’s fidelity, though, is not the only issue of the story. Instead, it’s what His people were willing to do despite the fact that everything was out of balance and they were hearing strange heavenly voices. Elizabeth and Zechariah had that baby and named him John (God is Gracious) despite being stricken with dumbness and strong family protests. Mary gave everything to God including her yes in a circumstance which was physically impossible. Joseph took Mary as a bride despite his potential humiliation and ruination as a righteous man. The shepherds struck out immediately into the night to follow the star going who knows where and bring the news of amazing happenings to Mary and Joseph. God’s people did not hesitate to step up and do what God needed at the moment despite the fact that none of it seemed to make sense or to be safe or sane to do. God is faithful, are you?
Is your definition of ministry or service something that only happens in a safe predictable circumstance while making perfect sense to you? How many opportunities have you missed to serve God because you have a narrow, safe definition of what it means to be a servant? God does not need you to consider, discuss, contemplate or judge the circumstances in which he wants you to act. Do you have fear; are you uncomfortable whenever you think God is moving you toward a word or action? Take great heed at the Christmas story and all of the players. Fear is not a skill that will win you the Kingdom. It is a very real human emotion, but like Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds we need to trust God for his fidelity and move right past the emotion. Fear is not the mark of a woman or man who claims to be a true servant of the Lord. “Fear is useless what’s needed is trust.” (John Paul II: Mk 5:36)
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Copyright Advent 2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved
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