Do not be afraid – A Christmas reflection from the Bishop of Liverpool 2020
But the angel said to them: “Do not be afraid”. (Luke 2:9)
This year has been marked by anxiety, chiefly of course anxiety about the Coronavirus. Will we, or our loved ones, get it badly? For some of course this is not an academic question – you or a member of your family may indeed have suffered from this illness – and for others there has been the deep pain of loss and bereavement, as a loved one has contracted the illness and has died. In such a world, where for months things seem to have been upside down, it is hard not to be afraid.
And yet over and over again that is exactly what we are told in Scripture: not to be afraid. The phrase is like an echo, repeated over 100 times in the Old Testament, over 40 times in the New. Within the chapters of the Christmas story Joseph, and Mary, and Zechariah, and the shepherds all hear this message of overcoming life – “Do not be afraid”…“Do not be afraid”…“Do not be afraid”… “Fear not”. And in Mary’s song (the Magnificat in Luke 1) we hear the pregnant young woman sing, in the midst of her bewilderment, when perhaps she was suffering over and over again the stigma of being with child outside marriage; still she sings: “…that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve God without fear”.
To live without fear doesn’t mean that all threat and worry vanishes, or that God will blow the virus away just because we believe in Him. And it’s not a matter of will power, as if you can force yourself not to feel what you feel. Rather it’s to put the landscape of your life in a different frame – a frame that is built by God’s plan and God’s purposes in Jesus Christ. Do not be afraid, even if things go badly; because God is with you. Do not be afraid, because the promises of Jesus are for you. Do not be afraid, because the worst that life can throw at you is as nothing compared with the glory that has been set aside for you forever. Fear not, for (as Elisha said to his servant in 2 Kings 6) “…there are more with us than there are with them”.
In the frame of God’s providence and God’s unfailing love, we can face the cold winds of the world for ourselves – just as Joseph and Mary did in their journey to Bethlehem. And there’s more: by the Spirit of God we can be strengthened to offer hope and love to those around us, who may indeed be lost in fear and who need the joy and the quiet assurance that God truly enables us to give.
May God bless you in this anxious time – with hope for yourself and strength for your loved ones and your neighbours, and with the solid promise of eternal life. And may you indeed hear the repeated echo of Scripture speaking to you – Jesus is born, life will indeed conquer death; do not be afraid.
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