“Fear not, for behold: I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” I’ve listened to these words, sung them, shouted them from a church basement, and read them hundreds of times. They are the great refrain of Christmas. This year they strike me differently, though, because this year I am afraid.
I’m afraid because my mother’s no longer here, which is just sad on most days but then sometimes feels like the ground under me has heaved and is no longer trustworthy. I’m afraid because, walking to work last week in below-zero temperatures, I passed through a happy flock of robins—the climate is changing, what used to be predictable is no longer, and we’ve elected a government that will likely aggravate the problem. I’m afraid because the fragile democratic structures that I’ve always assumed would function to serve the common good are threatened by big money and foreign interference and partisan politics. I’m afraid of the anger toward difference rippling across our country. Some nights I wake up with my heart beating furiously for no reason at all. I’m simply afraid.
“Fear not,” the angels tell the shepherds year after year. Their glad news is the birth of Jesus, which, as I understand the story, is the touch-point between God and creation: Holiness pouring itself into humanity, in Bethlehem, yes, but also in my mother and those robins and our government institutions, even in the anger, even in my insomnia. Love is always knocking at the door, always looking for places to be born. Sometimes I’m better at welcoming it, other times not—just like my country, just like humans everywhere.
“Fear not,” the angels sing. What if the biggest hindrance to love’s birth is fear? I see it more easily in others than in myself. When people are afraid immigrants will take their jobs or when Christians feel threatened by Muslims or when white police officers are scared of black men, fear quickly morphs into reactive prejudice. My reasons are different, but now I’m afraid, too, and I don’t want fear to shut my heart down like this.
I wonder if I’m finally waking up to hard realities—death and environmental degradation and systemic injustice—that I’ve previously avoided. I wonder if love wants to be born through even my fear, that fear can crack me open if I choose rather than shut me down. I want my fear to invite me into a level of trust I’ve not yet known. The angels keep announcing the birth of love. I just need to let it in.
Wishing you, faithful readers, light and love this holiday season. Thank you for your ongoing encouragement. Warmly, Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew.