Senior Minister's Message--Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea

“Do not be afraid”

In less than a month, we will once again celebrate the Christmas story as a spiritual community.  Stories actually.  Plural.  Despite the fact that most Christmas  pageants,  the wider culture,  and  many  Christians  recall  only  a single  story with shepherds,  angels,  wise  men  and  a manger,  there  are actually  two markedly  different  stories  about  Jesus’  birth  - one  in  the Gospel of Matthew and the other in the Gospel of Luke. For example, there are shepherds and a manger in Luke, but no wise men. In Matthew, it’s the reverse.

There  is  however,  one  essential  detail  they  do  have in  common   In  both Christmas  stories,  the  first  words  spoken  by  any  character  are  the  same: “Do not be afraid”. In Matthew’s Gospel, an angel speaks those words to Joseph in reference to the coming birth of Jesus. In Luke, they are spoken by  an  angel  to  Zechariah  in  reference  to  the  coming birth  of  John  the Baptist.  And John’s expected birth   is actually the beginning of the Christmas story for Luke. But the words are the same: “Do not be afraid”.

Yet as we enter the 2018 Advent and Christmas season, fear seems to be everywhere and growing.  As Martha Nussbaum, perhaps the most prominent  American  moral  philosopher  of  our  time  puts  it  in  her  latest book, The Monarchy of Fear, fear has “suffused” our current society due to a combination  of  extreme  polarization  and  the  forces  of  automation, outsourcing of jobs, and globalization, which have left many feeling powerless.

But  still,  the  very  first  words  God  speaks  to  us  through  angels  - a  word which means “messengers” -are “Do not be afraid”. And the Jesus who is born as the central act of the Christmas story will, as an adult, say “Do not be afraid” to those with him -to us -more than anything else.

If  fear  though,  is,  as  science  understands  it,  a  natural  part  of  the  human condition, how do we “not be afraid”? My sense is that what first God and then Jesus are really pointing to with those words has much less to do with the emotion and much more with the response. As Nussbaum discusses, to respond  to  fear  with  determination  to  thoughtfully  participate  in  needed change is helpful; to respond with the desire to make others suffer is not. That was the way Jesus responded to and called those in his time to respond to the things they feared. It is the way he and the God who sent him at Christmas call us to respond to what we fear.

Advent and Christmas Blessings,