There are people who fear, maybe even dread, the approach of Christmas. It’s not Christmas itself that causes this fear – I mean the religious side of it. The source of this fear lies elsewhere.
For some it’s the hassle and the extra work that makes them fearful. For others it’s the strain put on their already overstretched finances by the Christmas splurge. For others it’s fear of the conflicts that sometimes occur in families at Christmas time. And for others it is the fact that Christmas reawakens painful memories – the memory of a death or a tragedy that occurred around this time.
Also where there has been a loss during the year, that loss is felt again, intensely, at Christmas. The sight of others surrounded by loved ones reopens a wound that perhaps was beginning to heal. The result is an intense loneliness. Finally, one’s fears may result from advancing age, with the infirmities and sense of mortality this brings with it.
But those who fear the approach of Christmas can take heart and hope from the story of the first Christmas. There was plenty of fear present in it too. In fact, all of the main characters in it were afraid at one time or another.
Joseph was afraid when he found that Mary was expecting a child even though they hadn’t yet lived together. But an angel appeared to him in a dream and said to him, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit” – words we hear in today’s Gospel. Joseph, the just man, trusted God, and so overcame his fear and did what was right.
Mary was afraid on hearing the greeting of the angel Gabriel. But the angel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favor.” The angel went on to tell her that she was to conceive and bear a son by the power of the Holy Spirit, and she must name him Jesus. Mary trusted God, and so overcame her fear and said “Yes” to what he was asking of her.
And the shepherds were afraid. The Gospel says that when the angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, they were terrified. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of a great joy … Today a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” And they trusted God, went to Bethlehem, saw the Child, and returned to their flocks glorifying and praising God.
All of us are touched by fear. But we must not allow our fears to cripple us. What we have to do is move from fear to faith. Trust is the thing that enables us to turn fear into faith. And here is where Christmas can be a great help. Somehow it’s easier to trust in God at Christmas than at any other time, because we feel that God is very close to us and very loving towards us at this time. In Jesus, God comes to us in the form of a child.
And surely no one can be afraid of a child?
Christmas challenges us to enter into an intimate relationship with God, trusting that we will receive love, and always more love. By all means, let us do whatever we can to improve our situation. But having done that, let us leave what is outside our control in the hands of God. We must take courage. Fear can be an opportunity, even a grace. It can force us to trust in God rather than in ourselves.
My dear friends, this Christmas, I pray that the Lord may help us to make the leap of faith so that we may experience some of the great joy of this season. This will give us new heart as we journey towards the heavenly Bethlehem, where we shall see him face to face, not as an infant, but in his glory.