Watching the news for, well my whole adult life, I have come to realize that apparently selling people on fear is a very potent way to motivate them. And so...
And the angel appeared in the midst of the congregation and said:
“BE afraid, be very afraid! For unto you is born this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And he will cause you to rethink your entire lives!”
Not quite how we remember the Christmas story going is it? For years I have reminded people that more often than not an angel’s appearance begins with an exhortation NOT to be afraid. Scripture reminds us that we need to live in hope and trust and not be afraid. Fear does not lead to the Kingdom.
And yet... I wonder. Maybe we should be a little afraid. At least if we take Christmas and Jesus seriously.
Between Christmas and Easter this year the Narrative Lectionary is going to lead us through the Gospel according to Luke. Luke has long been my favourite of the 4 Gospels, in part because it contains classic stories such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son and the Emmaus Road but also because Luke makes plain the social justice that accompanies the Kingdom.
In this Gospel Jesus will begin his ministry by reading a passage from Isaiah that proclaims the beginning of the Jubilee year. In the Jubilee year debts are cancelled, slaves are freed, land is returned to its ancestral owners. The Jubilee year, the coming of the Kingdom, turns our economic order upside down.
In this Gospel we have Mary’s song. Mary sings of the proud being toppled from their thrones and the lowly lifted up. Mary sings this song knowing that the child she carries in her womb is the one who will do these things. The final verse of my favoured musical setting of Mary’s song reads:
Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp
This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which hold us bound
‘til the spear and rod can be crushed by God who is turning the world around
(verse 4 of My Soul Cries Out More Voices #120)
Be not afraid, for there are tidings of great joy for all the people. Soon will be born a Saviour, Christ the Lord. God’s presence will be revealed in a child in a manger.
But at the same time, be a little afraid, because God is at loose in the world. Be a little anxious, because God is making changes in the world. Be watchful, the Jubilee is coming, the time when the economic order will be turned over to ensure that all have what they need for life, and that in abundance.
Christmas is coming! God is breaking into our lives! For that we rejoice. And as we wait for the Baby Jesus we watch for the changes God will bring.