“Don’t be afraid” (Luke 2:10). The angel of the Lord spoke those words to the marginalized and forgotten of society in occupied territory. Their lives were full of hardship and threats, but unexpected supernatural visitors were something else. When an ordinary winter’s night safeguarding obstinate animals is rent by divine light and a loud voice, there’s good reason to tremble.
Hard after the assurance follows news that drives out fear: “good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10). That this announcement was given directly to the shepherds may have been as exciting as the news itself. When has a herald ever come specifically and exclusively to them? Maybe this baby born in Bethlehem will actually be the Prince of Peace that was promised (Isaiah 9:6). Maybe this really is the coming of the Sovereign Lord who will care for people as tenderly as these men care for the sheep in their flock (Isaiah 40:11). Could it be God’s favour rests on them (Luke 2:14)?
Good news for all
To whom would Jesus’ birth be announced today? Who in our world needs to hear the good news that drives away fear? A multigenerational First Nations family crammed in a tiny house on a northern reserve without plumbing or clean drinking water? An intravenous drug user shooting up at Vancouver’s InSite? Recent immigrants lost in a multicultural sea of humanity in a Toronto low-rent highrise complex? A Middle American family facing job loss and foreclosure on their home? The shepherds of Palestine today – still watching over sheep near Bethlehem, still despised by society – spat on by Jewish settlers and harassed by soldiers?
Jesus’ birth didn’t come at some idyllic point in history, a time when things were easier than they are now. It didn’t come to a people at the top of their game, riding on the coattails of a world superpower. And the message of peace was not something that instantly changed the situation around them. Sure, they were living in a period hailed as Pax Romana, but reality for the subjugated Jewish people was far from rosy, despite Roman propaganda. What followers of the one true God wouldn’t chafe under government by an idolatrous crew who add the emperor himself to their pantheon of worship?
No, this announcement didn’t come at a peaceful time, nor did it usher in a political or social age of peace. The peace proclaimed to all people that night and forever is not the peace of our tidy suburban churches with well-dressed and well-educated members, nor the peace of a democratic and fair government.
Steadiness of the soul
The peace proclaimed that night, proclaimed throughout the life and ministry of Christ on earth, and proclaimed through his church in the centuries that followed and the years to come, is peace in the midst of conflict. It’s the steadiness of the soul that can reach out and heal the ear of an attacker (Luke 22:50–51), marshal fellow prisoners to stay in jail during an earthquake (Acts 16:26–27), rescue a pursuer from an icy river death (Anabaptist Dirk Willems), and hold eye clinics in the midst of a war zone (martyred MCCer Glen Lapp). It’s the steadiness of the soul for the mundane: for changing baby’s diaper for the nth time this morning, for creating a monthly budget and sticking to it, and for hosting a holiday family gathering despite the inevitable arguments and interpersonal tension. It’s the steadiness of the soul that weathers theological questions and challenges with faith in God and love for our fellow Christians, despite different perspectives on important issues.
The message of peace is for body and soul. Despite war and suffering, the message of Christmas tells us not to fear, but to have peace both deep in our hearts and flowing out through our fingertips as we perform acts of mercy and love for those around us.
Perhaps we, the church of Christ, need to hear the good news again, and to take those words into the core of our being – don’t be afraid.
—Karla Braun is associate editor of the MB Herald.