I love these weeks of waiting, preparation and anticipation before Christmas. The growing collection of neighborhood light displays pokes holes in the early darkness. Worship plans and other celebrations begin to take shape. Opportunities to care for those in need abound.
Recently, our waiting and watching has been overshadowed by something other than anticipation and hopefulness. Violence around the world and closer to home have made many feel less safe and more fearful. More terrified.
The story of the birth of Jesus is also laced with danger and fear. Mary is startled by the news that she is pregnant with God’s child. Joseph, fearful of public disgrace, considers ending things quietly with Mary. When labor begins, the couple hurriedly seeks shelter in whatever space they can find. The shepherds, interrupted by a host of heavenly messengers, quake with fear. King Herod frets about a child whose birth threatens his and all earthly authority and reacts with a response so violent, families whose children were slaughtered wept for generations to come. “Do not be afraid,” the angels advise again and again. Yet fear abounds.
In the book, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, theologian Henri Nouwen writes:
“One of the most pervasive emotions in the atmosphere around us is fear. People are afraid – afraid of inner feelings, afraid of other people, and also afraid of the future. Fearful people have a hard time waiting, because when we are afraid we want to get away from where we are. … People who live in a world of fear are more likely to make aggres-sive, hostile, destructive responses than people who are not frightened. The more afraid we are, the harder waiting becomes.”
In the midst of our darkness and fear – we need a God who shows up. And that’s what we get in Jesus – Emmanuel – a name that means “God with us.” The absurdity of the incarnation – God coming down to us wrapped in our human skin – catches me by surprise every time. God is with us and for us. In the midst of our fear, Christ comes. In good years and hard ones, Christ comes. Christ comes, freeing us from the power of fear so that we may be fueled instead by the power of love. This is what we hope for, this is what we celebrate in the coming weeks. Come, gather together in community, hear the stories, sing the memories, and celebrate the light that scatters the darkness forever.
God is with us! May your time of waiting be filled with hope.