By: Rev. Susan Berge, Pastor of Knife River Lutheran Church, Lake County News Chronicle
Most of us associate angels with this time of year more than any other season. We think of the angelic announcement to the shepherds: “Fear not, for to you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” We might also think of all of the other angelic announcements that are a part of the Christmas story, the visitations by angels to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph. An angel tells Zechariah that he and his aged wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son, John the Baptizer, who will be the forerunner of the Messiah. An angel announces to Mary that she will bear the child of the Holy God: Jesus, the Christ. And an angel reassures Joseph that he should not break of his betrothal to his now pregnant fiancé, because the child is from God. In each of these instances, the angel begins with the same words that they used to calm the shepherds in the darkness of night: “Fear not.”
Throughout Scripture, angelic appearances are almost always begun with this word of reassurance, evidently because the appearance of angels is, in fact, frightening. Our domesticated Christmas card cherubs are nothing like the descriptions of angels we hear of in the Bible, where we read of powerful, swift, blindingly bright warriors and messengers that leave those who behold them terrified. Thus their standard greeting becomes, “Fear not.”
But it wasn’t just the startling appearance of the angel that caused these people we read of in Scripture to be afraid. They were already afraid before they received an angelic visition; like us, they lived with deep and abiding fears, and they needed to hear an angelic word that reassured them. And God responds to those fears with angelic comfort: “Fear not.”
All times throughout human history are fearful times, and our era is no exception. We can all too easily find reasons to fear: looming fiscal cliffs, the possibility of a new war in the Middle East, brokenness in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, our own nation polarized politically and ideologically. Closer to home, we all wrestle with our own fears in regards to health, or finances, or relationships. Even the simple darkness in nature at this time of year may heighten our fears as we traverse dark and slippery roads, or peer anxiously through our windshields for deer that may leap out in front of us in the early nightfall. Within many of us there may live an inner child that is still a little afraid of the dark, and most certainly this time of year gives us plenty of reason to experience that dread of the dark. For that reason, our ancient, pagan ancestors found reason to celebrate with light and fire at this season of nature, and our Christian tradition has beautifully adapted this custom; Christmas lights on houses or trees bring a note of cheer to the dark, and candlelight or firelight are a part of many festivities right now. The light warms us and calms our fears, a reminder of Christ, the Light of the World.
It is into this darkness that the Christ child comes, and it is into this darkness that God sends the angels of power and light to bring word of this Savior. The angels of this Holy Season look to turn us from fear to hope. “Do not fear.” May these words become a part of our lives this December, so that we may face the darkness with the words of the angels in our minds: “Fear not!”
The Rev. Susan Berge is Pastor of Knife River Lutheran Church. She lives in Duluth with her husband, and she loves to decorate for Christmas with figures of angels.