In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years. Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. – Luke 1:5-15
Zechariah went up to Jerusalem to the Temple, as he did every 24 weeks. Aaron’s sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, provided twenty-four priestly descendants, one of whom was Abijah, head of the eighth group of priests to make their way to serve God. He left behind at home a wife, Elizabeth, herself a descendant of Aaron. They were righteous but for all their righteousness they were denied one thing they wanted – a child. During Zechariah’s turn at the Temple, he was visited by an angel who startled and terrified him, appearing in a place where he had expected to be alone with God. The angel gave him the news that he was going to be a father and that they would name the child John. But before giving him that announcement, the angel gave a standard assurance, “Don’t be afraid.”
Fear has become an almost daily occurrence, and it isn’t angelically caused. We absorb fear from news casts and programs that play to stereotypes. Even when we try to convince ourselves that we are somehow invulnerable or that we are projecting an image of alertness, ease and control, inside there is a little corner that admits that the façade is cosmetic only. Too often alertness must become hyperalertness, a feeling of being at ease shatters easily, and the sense of personal control may be taken by others to be a sign of defiance. It would be a good thing if we heard more messages of “Don’t be afraid” rather than “Let me see your ID” or “St0ries of global warming/racial inequality/homelessness are greatly exaggerated.”
We aren’t always offered a “Don’t be afraid” message when we are faced with something. How many times in the Bible do we hear that phrase, “Don’t be afraid”? Like “Here I am, Lord”, it is one that repeats over and over but do we really pay attention? There are countless people in this world who desperately need help but who have been shoved aside, verbally and physically, and made to feel totally worthless and therefore fearful of others. What would hearing “Don’t be afraid” coupled with some sort of help, maybe a dollar, a cup of water or hot coffee, a blanket, a bag of groceries, or a ride to a shelter or clinic or aid society mean to one of these people living on the margin?
Maybe the message we should hear this advent is “Don’t be afraid, get involved.”