Fear Not!

December 27, 2015

Fear Not!

Luke 2:1-20

A week or so ago, Mel Fraley sent me a link to a blog about “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” You’ve seen it, haven’t you? You know how Charlie Brown keeps asking what the true meaning of Christmas is?

·         And how he’s ignored by Snoopy, who’s too busy decorating his doghouse …

·         how he’s ignored by kids in the pageant that he’s trying to direct…

·         how he’s ignored and even laughed at by Lucy and all the rest?

Finally, Charlie Brown screams out in frustration, “Can’t anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?” 

That’s when Linus, clinging to his dusty, well-worn security blanket, takes center stage and says, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” 

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”

A writer named Jason Soroski points out something he noticed it this year for the first time:  When Linus gets to the part where the angels say to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold! I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people”

- Linus drops his blanket. He lets go of his security blanket. [1]

As if the words, “Fear not” are for him. As if it’s enough for him to let go of all his insecurities, and trust himself in the promise of the angels.

“Fear not…”

My friend Tom Are still remembers a Christmas years ago, when their kids were still little, and he woke up in the middle of the night, terrified. 

“There was a noise. I heard it again. Someone was in our house. … I got out of bed. … The noise was in the kitchen, but I was having trouble hearing it over the pounding of my heart. I dialed 911 … ‘911, what is your emergency?’ I gave her my address.

“Just as she was telling me help was on the way, I told her I could see the intruder. The intruder – the intruder was named Skippy. My kids had brought home the resident hamster [from] preschool. My children had volunteered to keep Skippy and his nocturnal self for the holidays but no one had bothered to tell dad. So there I am in my own kitchen with 911 on the line, terrified of Skippy [the hamster] who is home for the holidays.” [2]

Fear not!

But sometimes we are afraid. I’d be afraid, too, if I thought there was an intruder in my house – but you better believe I wouldn’t go looking to see who it was. Being afraid comes naturally when we think we’re not safe – or our family isn’t safe.  It sure would be great if everything we’re afraid of turned out to be as innocuous as a hamster named Skippy.

But there’s plenty that makes us feel unsafe. It’s been a rough year for this poor world of ours, and it feels like there’s a lot to be afraid of. The growth of ISIS, the downing of a Russian jet, the horrible attacks in Paris… then the rampage in San Bernardino, which blew away any illusion that somehow we’re immune. Never mind the statistics about the infinitesimal odds of being killed in a terrorist attack. It’s the randomness and total lack of control that are unnerving. Not to mention seeing it on TV or hearing it on the news or reading about over and over again.

There’s plenty to be afraid of…

·         Sometimes it’s personal, like a life-threatening disease, or the death of a marriage or our kids being in trouble. We feel so helpless and out of control. 

·         Often it’s forces bigger than we are, like the economy, where even times of relative stability can’t make us confident we’ll have enough to live on, not just now but out into the future. We just don’t know if we will be OK.

·         Sometimes it’s global things like climate change that spook us, when even the balmy weather just feels bizarre, and news of deadly tornadoes and snowless ski slopes is disquieting.

Different things scare different people, but Lord knows there’s plenty to be afraid of.

“Fear not!” the angels tell the shepherds out in the field. It’s the same thing Gabriel tells Zechariah in the Temple, what he tells Mary when he visits her, the same thing the Lord tells his people again and again. “Do not be afraid!” It’s one of the most common refrains in all of scripture. Maybe God just knows how much we need to hear it. 

 The boys and I went to see Star Wars this week – judging by how many shows were sold out, everybody else did, too. Have you seen it yet? The movie deals a lot with fear – all the Star Wars movies do. There’s one scene in “The Force Awakens” that struck me as particularly powerful. I’ll try to describe it without spoilers…

One of the characters is captured, she’s in an impossible situation and it’s clear she can’t possibly escape. She’s being tortured for information by the evil villain, and she resists, but his power is far greater than hers. But suddenly she looks at him and realizes that he’s afraid, and she knows exactly what it is he’s afraid of.  Instantly the power shifts. When he leaves, she is newly confident, with a strength she didn’t know she had.

The Star Wars movies are a lot about power, and what happens to that power when we give in to fear, or when we resist it. That blog-post Mel Fraley sent talks about this, too. In fact it’s titled, “Fear is the path to the dark side.” It’s a reference to something Yoda tells Luke Skywalker when he’s training to be a Jedi Knight. Yoda warns Luke, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

Fear is the path to the dark side…

In that blog, William Kneely notes, “Many are playing on our fears, trying to convince us that we need to be afraid of those who seek refuge, [or] we need to be afraid of those who disagree with us, [or] we need to be afraid of those we do not understand.” [3]

But God’s messengers keep telling us, “Be not afraid…”

If fear is the path to the dark side – if fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering – maybe “fear not” is what we most need to hear.

Lord knows I’m afraid sometimes. Listening to the news is enough to make anyone afraid. And fears about my family, or my health, or even our church can flood me in a nanosecond. But I refuse to live there very long, and I will do everything in my power to move through that fear to get to the other side.

Because there is another side. That’s what the angels are trying to tell the shepherds, and Mary, and all the others. What they’re still trying to tell us.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

And when the shepherds return to their fields, they glorify and praise God for all the things they had heard and seen.

In a world just as full of fears as our own, they had found the path to God’s side.

May it be so for us.

Rev. Karen Chakoian

First Presbyterian Church

Granville, OH

[1] Referenced by William Kneely, December 16, 2015, accessed December 20, 2015.  http://williamkneely.com/blog/?p=568. Original Soroski blog: http://jasonsoroski.net/2015/12/03/just-drop-the-blanket/

 

[2] Tom Are, pastor, Village Presbyterian Church, Prairie Village, KS, in a paper presented January, 2013 to the Moveable Feast study group.

[3] William Kneely, December 16, 2015, accessed December 20, 2015. http://williamkneely.com/blog/?p=568