10 days away from Christmas we turn our attention to the angels.
Not the cherub like angels of Renaissance art who find their way onto the Christmas cards we send and receive or the dressed up angels of Christmas pageants complete with tinsel halos around their heads, but the everyday angels.
The blue jeans and flannel shirt angels.
Those messengers from God angels who brush up against your life and mine, and saying to us and all who will listen the same four words they have always said.
“Do not be afraid.”
Of all of the words in the Biblical narrative that make up the Christmas story these four words may be the most important. In relatively few verses, they are said over and over and over again. First to Zechariah who was the husband of Elizabeth who was the cousin to Mary and the mother of John the Baptist. Then they were said to Mary. And then to Joseph. And eventually to the abiding in the fields shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Do not be afraid.
Our first instinct might be to say, “Who wouldn’t be afraid if an angel suddenly appeared?”
But, I don’t think it was the arrival or the appearance of angels that caused their concern.
In the world view that shaped the writing of these stories, angels were assumed and understood in a much different way than the way we tend to think about or to talk about or to imagine angels today. Therefore, the words “Do not be afraid” must have something to do with something else.
Something more unsettling and more troubling and more disconcerting than merely an angel’s appearance.
When you strip away all the extra which has been layered over top the Biblical narrative,
Here is how I think the story goes.
An angel appears saying,
Do not be afraid, but I am here to tell you two things are about to happen.
First, God is about to do something new.
And second, God wants you to be a part of it.
We can handle, even applaud, the first half of the announcement.
Given the mixed up state of life and world, who doesn’t or wouldn’t want God to do something new?
The hard part comes when the angel says And.
And God wants you to be a part of it.
That is where the “Do not be afraid” comes in.
It would be so much easier…
So much nicer and sweeter…
If it was just about Mary and Joseph and Jesus and the shepherds with the angels hovering quietly and reverently overhead.
Silent Night. Holy Night.
All is calm. All is bright.
But, as you know…
I believe the Bible is never just about them, but always also about you and me.
And, it is never just about way back when, but also about the right here and the right now in which you and I find ourselves today. Including the right here and right now stories about the appearance of angels and the birth of Jesus.
Which leads me to this.
If I am right about the Bible and I think I am.
And if the Bible is true, which I believe it is.
Then, God still seeks to do something new.
And, angels still come to tell us about it.
Inviting us to acknowledge their presence.
And, to get on board.
And, to add our Yes to the Yes of Zechariah and Elizabeth and to the Yes Mary and Joseph and to the Yes of the shepherds and all those others who have dared to say Yes to that grand Dream of God which has something to do…
With sufficiency, not just for us, but for all.
With a place at the table, not us for us, but for all.
With peace, not just for us, but for all.
With God’s Kingdom come, not just for us, but for all.
And, we gulp.
Afraid, with good reason to be afraid, of what it might mean and what it might cost if we seriously said Yes to that grand Dream of God.
Week in and week out, I do my best to tell you what I think the Bible says.
And, in these days which lead towards Christmas, what the Christmas story means.
And as I am able, to paint a picture with words of what that something new which God seeks to do.
But, like you, I am also trying to figure out what that means for my own life.
And, what it means to put myself in the story rather than to hold the story safely at arm’s length.
To let it be real enough and honest enough and gritty enough that I have to wrestle with it.
So here I am…
Trying to figure out what it means to pay enough attention that I recognize angels when they appear in my life.
And, what it might mean for me to say Yes to God.
And, what are the fears that hold me back.
What I think I understand is this.
If something in all of this rings true…start somewhere.
Start with some Yes you can manage.
And then practice that Yes until it is so much a part of who you are that you are no longer afraid. Then begin to look for that next Yes.
Begin to watch for and to expect some other angel to brush up against your life and to whisper in your ear…
God is about to do something new.
And, God wants…
No God needs…
You to be a part of it.