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This was in our parish newsletter, gentle reader.
It's posted because of its message about not kowtowing to fear.
'Be not afraid.' Richard Leonard on the greeting we all need to hear this Christmas
(published in The Tablet on 12 December 2018)
At the risk of wrecking your Christmas, we have to clear up a few things. I know all our carols and cards say that Jesus was born in December; in a snow-covered stable; was wrapped in swaddling clothes; lay in the manger with the animals around him; that a star stood vigil; and was later visited by three Kings whose names were Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior.
But the Gospels don't say any of this. It could have snowed on the first Christmas, but the Scriptures don't say that it did. No animals are mentioned. The star in the North did not stand still in the night sky because stars just don't behave like that. And Jesus probably wasn't even born in December. Pope Julius I declared that Christmas was to be celebrated on 25 December in 350 AD, after the Christians had given the pagan Roman calendar the thorough make-over it richly deserved. Rather neatly, the pagan feast of the "birthday of the unconquered Sun" became the "birthday of the allconquering Son" — the birthday of Jesus our Lord.
The worst Christmas I ever celebrated was in Manger Square in Bethlehem. By the time I had finally negotiated the traffic jams, the security checks, and the guards on patrol and joined the thousands who had been packed into the church, the adventure had lost some of its appeal.
In all the accounts of Christmas we have in the New Testament we hear the angel begin her announcement of Jesus' birth with the words: "Be not afraid." Given the world events over recent months, this greeting is just what we need to hear this Christmas: Be not afraid.
Fear cripples us into passivity. It ruins our memories of past or present events and undermines dignified, trusting and respectful relationships. There is an important difference between being vigilant and being frightened, but since the 9/11 terrorist attacks this difference has become blurred. We have seen people become anxious, change their lifestyle and travel plans and worry for their future and for that of their children. But we don't need to look to international terror to explain the nature of our fear. Broadly speaking, we fear four things: God, nature, other people, or something in ourselves. It is usually a combination of these things; for some of us, tragically, it is all of them. But to whatever degree fear has come to rule our lives, we need to hear again God's greeting at Christmas: "Be not afraid."
St Paul tells us that love drives out all fear. That's what — and who — we celebrate at Christmas: perfect love took human form in Jesus Christ the Lord. Throughout this joyful season we celebrate the one whose life, death and resurrection showed us the way out of our fears; revealed the truth that sets us free; and gave us the life that we can live to the full in this world, and the next.
Christmas is the feast day when God calls us to be as active as we can in bringing Christ's Kingdom to bear in our world. Christmas is the time when our memories are joined to God's, who has remembered us in our fear. Christmas is the season when all Christian relationships are defined by the dignity, trust and respect they bestow on us and on those we relate to.
As a result of the Babe of Bethlehem, God has shown us that fear is not our calling and that the saving love of Jesus impels us to take risks in how we live out our faith, hope and love. On any day, then, in the coming year, when we face down our fears and live our Christian life to the full we will discover that Christmas is a moveable feast.
My favourite Advent poem is from John Bell, of the Iona Community in Scotland:
Light looked down and saw the darkness.
"l will go there," said light.
Peace looked down and saw war. "I will go there," said peace.
Love looked down and saw hatred. "l will go there," said love.
So he, the Lord of Light, the Prince of Peace, the King of Love, came down and crept in beside us.
No fanfare. No palace. No earthly prince. Christmas celebrates that God crept in beside us. And as a result there is no part of our lives he will not enter with mercy and love. So this Christmas let's invite in again the Lord of Light, the Prince of Peace, the King of Love and live as boldly as we can.