In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. – Luke 2:8-20
The darkness enfolded them like a cloak. Perhaps the fire had died down to embers and the only sounds to be heard were the occasional baa from a sheep or lamb. Had they looked up in the sky they could have seen billions of stars, far more than most of us could ever conceive of in our light- and dust-polluted atmosphere. It was quiet and peaceful, just the way a pastoral scene should be.
But it didn’t stay quiet for long. Suddenly the shepherds were terrified by bright figures lighting up the sky, and a voice telling them not to be afraid. I imagine it would be hard not to be afraid, and it would probably take some time before I would be able to put the fear aside and hear what the messenger had to say.
Over and over in the Bible people are told “Do not be afraid!” Usually it follows some divine appearance or presence and precedes a charge to do something out of the ordinary. Depending on what translation you use, “Do not be afraid” and phrases such as “Fear not” and “Do not fear” occur approximately 110 times. That’s a lot of telling people not to be scared of something.
Today’s climate of fear has much need of someone reassuring us “Do not be afraid.” Fear for our safety covers so many scenarios whether actual or projected has us in thrall, almost unable to distinguish where the real threats are and where we are being pushed to feel threatened. Driving through a strange neighborhood? Walking to our car in the parking lot? Having our kids go to school? Standing or walking next to someone wearing a hijab or speaking a foreign language? Heaven knows, just watching the nightly news is enough to make almost anyone want to go find a nice deserted island or safe bunker to hide in and to mistrust even your own family sometimes.
Many say the cure for fear is faith. Because you believe and try to live a Godly life doesn’t mean God has put an impenetrable umbrella over you to ward off any and all threats to personal health and safety. Sometimes stuff just happens. Where faith does its job is allowing us to move past the fear, to reach out beyond our comfort zone to people who also suffer from fear and oftentimes real situations that most of us would find almost impossible to understand much less cope with. We may not have an angel telling us “Do not be afraid,” but we could use a few voices reminding us of that. Then we must summon all our faith and move ahead.
Today might be a good day to see where we have fear, real or perceived, and how we can apply the “Do not be afraid” to our own lives, then offer that same message and support to others, whether we know them or not. Then we should remember that Jesus had to use that phrase and others like it a number of times to the disciples and the followers. The shepherds moved past their fear; now it’s our turn.