Bishop Scott Mayer has issued a Christmas message:
“Do not be afraid!”
The Christmas story tells us these are the first words of the angel who appeared to the shepherds outside Bethlehem on a long ago December night.
And no wonder. Here are humble hard-working folk, minding their own business, camping out with their sheep on a landscape not unlike those we see in parts of rural Texas north and west of Fort Worth – hardscrabble land redeemed day and night by the incredibly enormous sky stretching overhead. Surely those shepherds were used to some magnificent starry skies.
Suddenly their familiar night sky is ablaze with the unworldly light of an angel and the “glory of the Lord shone round about them.” The angel hastens to reassure the astonished shepherds, in order that they might hear the wondrous message the angel has to deliver:
Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
And as if one angel wasn’t astonishment enough, we are told that, “. . . suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.
We aren’t told how many angels there were, but given that the Revelation to John gives us a figure of “thousands upon thousands” for the number of “many angels in a circle around the throne,” I think we can assume it was a lot of very happy angels singing to a small band of very brave shepherds.
Because they didn’t run away and hide. They didn’t cower in fear, refusing to believe this world-changing message was of God. They didn’t argue that only some of them were worthy to hear this message, much less to go and actually see this Holy Baby.
Instead, we are told that after the angels left, the shepherds talked among themselves and agreed they needed to go to Bethlehem to see this thing which the Lord made known to them. And once they saw, they didn’t hug the knowledge to themselves. They went out and spread the news widely.
Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
As we celebrate this Christmas in a world that can seem filled with fear, let us remember the courage of those shepherds – their courage and their willingness to believe astonishing things.
For that Holy Baby brings right into the midst of us the astonishing news of how much God loves us, absolutely every one of us, shepherds and kings, maids and matrons, carpenters and prodigals, tax collectors and centurions, refugees and rich people, farmers and fishermen – all of humanity, beloved, treasured, redeemed.
Whether sung from the heavens, whispered in prayer, or pondered silently in our hearts, let this message inform our lives beyond the twelve days of Christmas and into the New Year:
Do not be afraid. You are the beloved of God.