Do not be afraid. Be at peace

"Do not be afraid." How many times do we hear those words spoken in the gospels, especially surrounding the birth of Jesus? One, Mary is told, Ďdo not be afraidí that she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Lk. 2.9). Two, Joseph is told, ĎDo not be afraid," to marry Mary even though she is pregnant and he is not the father (Mt. 1.21). Three, the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem are told, ĎDo not be afraidí for the angel has brought glad tidings, great news (Lk. 2.19). And, four, Zechariah is told, ĎDo not be afraid,í that he and his similarly elderly wife will become parents, and their child to be named John will serve as the herald of the Lord. (Lk. 1.13) "Do not be afraid." In this season, especially, friends, "Do not be afraid. Be at peace."

The theme of ĎDo not be afraid" interestingly continues throughout the gospels. Not only does the angel says "do not be afraid," when preparing protagonists for Jesusí birth, but also, Jesus says frequently, ĎDo not be afraid." When he calms the stormy sea and when he walks on water (Mt. 14.27). When he heals people, and when he tells his disciples not to fear those who can kill the body but not the soul. (Lk. 12.4) He calms his apostles at his Transfiguration (Mt. 17.7), and in his post-resurrection appearances he repeatedly calms Mary Magdalene and other women with her at the tomb (Mt. 28.5-10), his apostles and disciples who were hiding in fear. His "last discourse" concludes with the words, "Peace I leave you. Peace I give you. Be not afraid." (Jn. 14.27)

Do you think Jesus really wants us to "be not afraid."? I think so. He wants us to trust in him, to place ourselves in his hands, to believe "that all things work unto good for those who believe." Donít be skeptical. For sure, things donít always work out as we wish. We all can identify events in our lives that have unfolded in ways in which we never dreamed. What matters most, though, is that we keep trying to know and to do Godís will. Will we ever understand Godís will and ways? I donít think so. If we could understand God, then weíd have to be bigger than God. Personally, rather than my trying to envelop God by my arms and hands, Iím happy rather just to be held in Godís hands.

Many times, I think we are too hard on ourselves. Many of us spend so much time trying to do this and do that, that we probably have failed to give God enough time to do with us as God would like to do. Martin Luther used to preach, it seems to me, "Let go and let God lead you." Many of us could benefit by doing less and letting God do more for us. As the Psalmist says, "Be still and know that I am God." (46.10)

In todayís first reading, King Ahaz says he wonít test God by asking God to save the Israelites. The prophet Isaiah sees right through this manís false piety, and claims, you wonít ask God because you donít trust God. You think you yourself have to do everything in order to assure safety for you and your kingdom. Isaiah charged King Ahaz with trusting himself more than he trusted God.

The four weeks of Advent are almost over. Christmas Day is almost here. Four weeks ago, you might remember, I preached that I intended to watch less TV, especially sports, and sit more often in my room quietly with religious music playing softly. Iíve failed at that resolution at times, but mostly I kept that strategy. I liked sitting quietly, peacefully unhurriedly with Godís Spirit, in Godís Spirit. At the end of Advent, how do I feel? These words, "Be not afraid." Iím not sure that I have ever experienced much fear. Iíve always trusted in Godís ways. I was blessed with strong faith. But peace, I certainly oftentimes have lacked peace. This Advent, I actually feel closer to God because Iíve spent less time in doing things, and more time doing "nothing." Now, truly, I skimped on Christmas decorations this year over in the rectory. Iíve done less shopping, and sent fewer cards than in past years. But Iíve given more time to God, thatís why todayís message, "Do not be afraid; be at peace" impacts me so much this year. Itís funny what happens when we individually and corporately, "let go, and let God lead." This Advent, the angelís message; and always Jesusí message to us is, "Do not be afraid. Be at peace."

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