Forget “Merry Christmas” – a more appropriate holiday greeting is “Be not afraid” (perhaps the response could be “Thank you. Nor you”) Not only would this better capture the tone of the Christmas story, echoing the angel’s greetings to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, it would better address the emotional strain of December.
There is so much to do in December, with such a firm deadline. Gifts to buy, trees to decorate, parties to plan and attend, concerts to prepare for, cookies to bake, cards to write, groceries to buy – and so many more church services than usual on top it all! And the pressure to not only get it done but to get it done well – to ensure that you and everyone you love will have a Merry Christmas, filled with peace and love and wonder – is enough to fill even the most organized among us with fear.
And what about those of us who do not have the financial resources, the happy family, or the emotional or physical well-being to even attempt the miracle of a so-called Merry Christmas? What about those of us who are lonely or ill? Those of us grieving a death or a job loss? Those of us who are simply not happy? “Be not afraid” may be just as difficult to accomplish as “Have a Merry Christmas” but at least it’s a more accurate place to start.
Because Christmas is not only for people who are happy and healthy. In fact, Christmas is most particularly for people who are not happy and not healthy. Christmas is for people who are afraid.
Consider the Christmas story. Jesus was not born under a Christmas tree but in a barn to parents who were exhausted and powerless and scandalous. His birth was not celebrated with family and feasting but dirty strangers and livestock. His birthday presents were accompanied with a warning to flee to Egypt for an indefinite period of time. Fear and worry. Worry and fear.
And yet the angels sing, “Be not afraid!” Take courage; cling to hope. This child will be the salvation of the world. This child is God’s presence with us, in the midst of our fear, to proclaim that our fear does not make us unworthy and that we are not alone.
This is indeed a joyful message but it is not an easy, sparkly kind of joy. It’s a better joy – a joy that can co-exist with our sadness and our fear because it comes not from our celebrations or our families or our own strength but from God.
“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 Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord”
On Monday, December 22nd, the Cathedral is offering a “Blue Christmas” service
for those in need of a time to acknowledge their fear, worry, grief, or exhaustion before God
and to pray for hope and healing. Details here or on Facebook.