When God calls Abram out of obscurity in order to unfurl his plan of redemption, to gather a People who will undo what Adam did, God’s first admonishes Abram to ‘not be afraid.’
For God’s People, not fearing comes before following.
Or, not being afraid is the first step in being faithful.
When God begins to unravel the New Creation, what we call this time of year ‘incarnation,’ God commands Joseph, by way of a dream, not to be afraid. In Luke’s telling of the same story, God, by way of the angel Gabriel, tells Mary and later the shepherds not to fear. Matthew doesn’t mention it but I’m willing to wager that Gariel also orders the magi, once they learn of Herod’s rage, not to be afraid. You don’t have to be a student of 1st century politics or a fan of
Game Rape of Thrones to realize Mary and Joseph and all the others had ample reason to fear.
And it’s little noticed but the first word of God’s New Creation, after Jesus has defeated Sin and Death, is ‘Do not be afraid.’ Not incidentally, the next word is ‘Peace.’
As in, ‘shalom.’
As in, right-making, whole-making restoration.
As in, the opposite of fear.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Unless you’ve been trapped under something heavy in 2015 or spent the whole year waiting in line for The Force Awakens, I require no citation or corroboration to suggest we, as a country, are already through 3/4 of the way through Master Yoda’s koan. Donald Trump has done more than guest judge Wrestle Mania III. He is us. Or, we’ve become him. Of late, we’re a fearful, angry and even hateful bunch.
As if to indict us, those of us who consider ourselves not just Americans or Westerners but Christians, the repeated refrain of scripture’s primary narrative arc admonishes us:
Do not be afraid.
The headlines of the day, as they always have, supply the fill-in for the blank. Do not be afraid of___________.
Fear no less than inhospitality, miserliness, or vengeance is a contrary posture to Christian discipleship.
Perhaps then the best Christmas gift we can offer this season is not simply to believe that in the manger the light of God is born but to believe, as John does, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.’
In other words: Do not fear.
Saying all this better than me and nearly as good as John’s Gospel is Marilynne Robinson in this essay from her new book. In it, she argues 1) “…contemporary America is full of fear”; 2) “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind” because “Christ is a gracious, abiding presence in all reality, and in him history will finally be resolved.”
Robinson, author of Gilead, is one of my favorite novelists and as an unembarrassed, articulate Christian she is rare today among writers. You should read her, but you must read this.