Do Not Be Afraid
by Rev. Robert J. Wagner
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her first born son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields an keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you; you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.:" And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
When confronted with the majesty of an angel of the Lord appearing to them in the fields around Bethlehem, the shepherds quaked. “Do not be afraid,” the angel assured them. “I proclaim to you good news of great joy.”
“Do not be afraid.” This is not a sentiment something that we often consider on Christmas day. Instead, we think of the Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes in the Virgin's arms, the gaze of St. Joseph and peace on earth. What is there to fear? Our Savior Jesus Christ is born. Joy to the world!
Yet when we consider the peace and joy of Christmas, we recognize how that is found amidst some not-so-joyful, not-so-peaceful events in the life of the Holy Family. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at the Annunciation saying, “Do not be afraid” (Lk 1:30), her life was turned upside down when she said yes to God and became the mother of Our Lord. We know that Joseph, her betrothed, had prepared to divorce her quietly because she was with child in order to save her from shame. “Do not be afraid” (Mt 1:20), an angel told him in a dream, and he responded in faith and took Mary into his home.
When time came for her to bear her child, Mary and Joseph were uprooted and sent to Bethlehem so they might be enrolled in the Roman census. We can imagine how difficult the journey would have been for the Blessed Mother. Upon their arrival in the city of David, they were rejected by innkeepers and there was only a stable for Mary to lay her head. On that first Christmas, Our Lord came into this world rejected and amongst the livestock.
One can see that when God burst into the lives of Mary and Joseph, and both of them responded in faith, everything was turned upside down. They needed to be comforted with repeated choruses of “Do not be afraid,” and to remember that phrase again and again. Soon a jealous king would send soldiers to kill the infant Jesus. Soon the three of them would flee to the foreign land of Egypt.
Through all of this turmoil, God teaches us a lesson at Christmas: when we allow Him to enter into our lives, we must be prepared. He wants to bring about our peace, joy and salvation, yet in order for this to happen, we need to respond in faith and give Him permission to upend our lives.
In the beginning of the Gospel of John, the Evangelist writes that when Jesus entered the world, the world did not know Him and He was not accepted by His own people (Jn 1:9-11). We must expect the same when we allow Jesus to accompany us so closely through our faithful witness to Him. We must be prepared for the rejection of those around us who do not want to accept our faith as true. We also must be prepared for the turmoil in our own lives as we struggle to accept God’s will over our own. It is in this chaos that we are to cling to Him with faith. It is in this upheaval, the upheaval that followed Christ from the Annunciation to the Cross, that we are to trust in the glory of the Resurrection.
This Christmas, we remember the birth of Jesus, and we welcome also Him with great joy. Our Savior is here. Come let us adore Him. “Do not be afraid,” the angels tell us as they bring tidings of great joy. A child is born, and “from His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace” (Jn 1:16).
Today, and every day, we pray for the grace to receive this child with hearts that are open and fearless. Our Savior has come to save us. May we allow also Him the freedom to do so, that we may share the peace and joy that comes from accompanying Our Lord in this life and the next.
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