Gospel Commentary: Do not be afraid

First slide

When confronted with the majesty of an angel of the Lord appearing to them in the fields around Bethlehem, the shepherds quaked. “Do not be afraid,” the angel assured them. “I proclaim to you good news of great joy.”

 

“Do not be afraid.” This is not a sentiment something that we often consider on Christmas day. Instead, we think of the Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes in the Virgin's arms, the gaze of St. Joseph and peace on earth. What is there to fear? Our Savior Jesus Christ is born. Joy to the world!

Yet when we consider the peace and joy of Christmas, we recognize how that is found amidst some not-so-joyful, not-so-peaceful events in the life of the Holy Family. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at the Annunciation saying, “Do not be afraid” (Lk 1:30), her life was turned upside down when she said yes to God and became the mother of Our Lord. We know that Joseph, her betrothed, had prepared to divorce her quietly because she was with child in order to save her from shame. “Do not be afraid” (Mt 1:20), an angel told him in a dream, and he responded in faith and took Mary into his home.

When time came for her to bear her child, Mary and Joseph were uprooted and sent to Bethlehem so they might be enrolled in the Roman census. We can imagine how difficult the journey would have been for the Blessed Mother. Upon their arrival in the city of David, they were rejected by innkeepers and there was only a stable for Mary to lay her head. On that first Christmas, Our Lord came into this world rejected and amongst the livestock.

One can see that when God burst into the lives of Mary and Joseph, and both of them responded in faith, everything was turned upside down. They needed to be comforted with repeated choruses of “Do not be afraid,” and to remember that phrase again and again. Soon a jealous king would send soldiers to kill the infant Jesus. Soon the three of them would flee to the foreign land of Egypt.

Through all of this turmoil, God teaches us a lesson at Christmas: when we allow Him to enter into our lives, we must be prepared. He wants to bring about our peace, joy and salvation, yet in order for this to happen, we need to respond in faith and give Him permission to upend our lives.

In the beginning of the Gospel of John, the Evangelist writes that when Jesus entered the world, the world did not know Him and He was not accepted by His own people (Jn 1:9-11). We must expect the same when we allow Jesus to accompany us so closely through our faithful witness to Him. We must be prepared for the rejection of those around us who do not want to accept our faith as true. We also must be prepared for the turmoil in our own lives as we struggle to accept God’s will over our own. It is in this chaos that we are to cling to Him with faith. It is in this upheaval, the upheaval that followed Christ from the Annunciation to the Cross, that we are to trust in the glory of the Resurrection.

This Christmas, we remember the birth of Jesus, and we welcome also Him with great joy. Our Savior is here. Come let us adore Him. “Do not be afraid,” the angels tell us as they bring tidings of great joy. A child is born, and “from His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace” (Jn 1:16).

Today, and every day, we pray for the grace to receive this child with hearts that are open and fearless. Our Savior has come to save us. May we allow also Him the freedom to do so, that we may share the peace and joy that comes from accompanying Our Lord in this life and the next.

Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge’s secretary.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017