Sunday, November 28, 2010
Be not afraid
Advent is starting, and I was recently reading through the opening Chapters of Luke in preparation. There we have the most detailed version of the Christmas story. This time, as I was reading the story it hit me. Wow, there is a lot of fear here. A lot of.. reluctance. That is amazing…. Because we have some big names here. Mary and Joseph. The shepherds! And Zechariah!
But every time we turn around there are the angels saying, “Wait, relax, be not afraid… be not afraid… be not afraid….” It seems like everyone in the story enters the scene in fear. Not in joy, expectation, or hope, but in fear.
Mary was afraid. Joseph was afraid. The shepherds were afraid. Of whom, of what where they afraid? Was it God? Perhaps it would be better to say they were afraid of what was unfolding. Because what was unfolding was, different, mysterious, unexpected. It was a shift, a radical shift, from the status quo. From what had been expected. Even from what seemed rational, logical. No, it was no easy task to go along with God as he revealed, unfolded a new plan, a new direction.
Now this fear was not totally inappropriate. I mean look at Mary – there she was, a young, inexperienced girl who was given startling news. She was going to give birth to the Messiah. And this birth was out of wedlock. Socially unacceptable. Yes, she had reason to fear, not only the girth, but Joseph’s reaction, the community’s judgment. Joseph, he was simple carpenter – asked to play a difficult and important role, and was called to accept, well something that must have seemed ludicrous, that his now pregnancy fiancée was not unfaithful. The shepherds, those shabby watchers of sheep. What they experienced had to have shocked them to the core.
But what about Zechariah? Zechariah was a priest, a holy man. In this story Zechariah has been chosen by God through the cast of the lot to offer incense on the great altar in the temple in Jerusalem. This was THE most prestigious thing a priest good. And of course the belief was that God would use the lot to choose priests who were uniquely qualified - the spiritual elite.
So here we have this holy man, doing his job, and suddenly and angel arrives and tells Zechariah about his part in the divine drama which was about to unfold. And Zechariah was afraid! I supposed we shouldn’t be too afraid at this initial response. I mean powerful encounters with God of any sort do tend to be a bit of a shock… Who wouldn’t be surprised to suddenly run into an angel of the lord, and to hear startling news of a soon to be son?
But what is surprising is the continued fear. Even after the angel outlined God’s plan for him, a plan that was truly exciting, Zechariah was fearful. Even after the news was offered that he would finally have a son, something he had prayed for… so this wasn’t even a new plan… he was fearful. So fearful that God silenced him, literally, until the baby was born.
What was it was with Zeke? What is it, so often with us!!? God comes – one way or another God reveals his purpose… reveals a new option… opens a new door… inspires us, moves us….. and we get scared. We hold back. We entrench.
I think there are many reasons. I tried to think about the reasons I have often been afraid to really open up to God’s call for my life, God’s leading, God’s power! Sometimes there is a fear of what God is asking for. God’s call can be costly sometimes. We might have to give up things…Go against some of our own deeply held dreams, in order to go with God. Most of it, I think, has to do with vulnerability! Sometimes I’m afraid that I’ll fail- there is that deep seated fear that I’m just not enough. Aren’t spiritual enough, talented enough, deep enough.
At other times there is a fear of exposure. Doing god’ work requires openness, honesty. We can’t fake it. Can’t pretend. Can’t act together when we are not. Can’t pretend we have the answers when we don’t. What is it for you? It’s worth a thought.
But lets get back to Zeke… Zechariah was fearful. He hesitated. In fact he never did say, “Yes” to God. But in the end? God made something happen. That is the way God is. In spite of ourselves, God uses us
It is amazing how God can break through fear, efforts to hold back, unwillingness – and accomplish incredible things. We need to understand what God can do with human inadequacy. We have to banish the myth that God works only through strength. That God uses only the talented, the special, the strong… not so.
Look at the Christmas story. Zechariah, priest of little faith. Elizabeth the barren. Mary the young. Joseph the simple and uneducated. Shepherds, dirty and rejected…all them are limited, marginal – and all of them are important. All of them are used by God. And the result, something incredible emerges.
Nine months later Zechariah, who has been through terrible times, who has been mute, puzzled, humiliated, tossed and battered, now holds in his arms a little bundle of joy - John, soon to be the John the Baptist. The forerunner of the Christ.
In spite of fear, silence, frustration. Though tired and reluctant servants
God carried out his plan, and fear blossomed into joy! So it was. So it can be. To each of us the call of God will come. To each of us the Spirit of the Lord will speak, and God will say… “I have a plan, and you are a part of it.”
And the slightest opening is there -- if there is the smallest bit of receptiveness in our heart – perhaps even if there is not - God’s transforming power will do its work. And in spite of ourselves -- Our greed, selfishness, lack of vision, feeble faith, weaknesses, our fear… God will work his purpose out, and there will be joy!