In the Gospel infancy narratives, angels appear to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. Though the overall message is slightly different, the greeting is the same for all three. “Fear not,” says the angel. Of all the things angels have to say, “fear not,” seems the most important, and is a core message of Christmas that is too often forgotten.
As we begin our celebration. Of Christmas today (and the celebration of the end of 24 days of blogging) many of us will feel a rush of emotions: joy, anxiety, peace, irritation, love, solemnity; but do we feel any less fearful? I don't think so. One could argue between money stresses, family stresses, and time stresses that Christmas time is one of the most fearful time of year, and we as a generation are the most fearful in history.
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, William Faulkner (in one of the most gorgeous pieces of writing ever set to paper) captured this well:
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
What I like about this observation is the line “so long sustained that we can even bear it.” Fear is not something we try to overcome through faith and action, it overwhelms us and paralyzes us. In the Cold War context of these comments, Faulkner talks about the fear of being blown up. This is less a present fear today, but this Cold War anxiety has carried on to our times in more insidious and destructive ways. Today we are not so afraid of a faceless enemy. Today we are afraid of each other, and it doesn't show itself in cowering, it shows itself in anger. In fear we lob preemptive missiles, hoping to destroy the frightening threat.
I've talked about several instances of this during these past days. We are afraid of changes in the education process. Whether it be technology integration or Common Core Standards, there is an underlying suspicion that these cannot lead to anything but a distruction of society, of religion, of our future. There is fear that educational changes will make older methods and techniques obsolete (they will), will make children approach learning differently (they will), will lose the essential values of our existence (they won't). How would these critics react to a message from an angel to fear not? We so need voices to say, “It's going to be all right.”
I'm not saying this from a smug distance, for I know that I fall into fear more than most. My wife has often suggested that I wear a constant “We're Doomed!” button. I think that Christmas is a challenge to me to stop fretting about ultimate ends and to have faith (in every sense of the word) that directions are being drawn by a hand larger than my own.
I hope, as I finish this 24 day (highly uneven) blogging caravan, that you may have the gift of fear not, this Christmas. Whatever your religious background, I hope we can join together in celebrating this good life we have and continue to work to make it better for others.
Don't be afraid, it's Christmas.
As always, I welcome your comments.
Image: 'Happy Christmas!'
http://www.flickr.com/photos/56052306@N06/11474818373 found on Flikrcc.net