I Could call this little piece, “Visits From an Angel.” Instead, I choose “Don’t Be Afraid,” the words that were spoken by the angel on four occasions. Fear has been bandied about over the last year, sometimes loosely, sometimes manipulative, sometimes emotionally, and sometimes in earnest.
As an older gay man, I’ve thought about fear, not so much for my physical safety, not in a life and death way, but in a deeply personal way as you will see when your read on.
Don’t Be Afraid
The angels told Zechariah not to be afraid and told Joseph not to be afraid and told
Mary not to be afraid and the angel told the shepherds not to be afraid. We musn’t fear but face what is before us and rise to the ocassion. The result of such bold faith in the face of genuine, reasonable fear was that they received peace and joy.
Zechariah, a Jewish priest, was old, as was his wife Elizabeth. They were childless and past child bearing age. One day, while performing his priestly duties—it was the point in the ritual for the incense offering —an angel appeared to the side of the altar of incense. Zachariah was terrified, fear overwhelmed him. The angel said, “Do not be afraid,” and told him that. His wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son.
Joseph was encouraged to not be afraid to continue with his relationship with Mary even though she was pregnant before they had had intimate sexual intercourse. Such a situation was cause for divorcing her and her life would be ruined forever. Because she was pregnant before she and Joseph were married, it was assumed that she had had sex with another man. But the angel told Joseph not to be afraid of public opinion, neither directed toward Mary nor toward him. So, he courageously followed through on the angel’s encouragement. Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God
Mary, a young girl of about 15 years of age, was perplexed when the angel told her she was going to have a baby. The angel went on to say, “Do not be afraid, Mary, because God has favored you.” The angel told her that she would bear a son who would be a king.
While filthy, uneducated shepherds were taking care of their sheep one night, they were terrified when an angel came to them. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I’m bringing you good news. The Jews’ Messiah is born and you can go see him!”
In four different situations surrounding the birth of Jesus, people were told to not be afraid—his uncle was in the middle of religious duty; his dad, faced with the news that his fiancé was pregnant, was gripped with fear of being shamed by her assumed irresponsibility; his mom, told by the angel she was going to give birth to a baby, was perplexed and undoubtedly fearful; and shepherds were taking care of their sheep in an open field in the middle of the night when suddenly there was an angel talking to them. When an angel came to each of them at different times, they all had reasons to be afraid. Yet, each time the angel said, “Dont be afraid.”
An old man, in the middle of religious duty told his wife was to have a baby. A fiancé suddenly turns up pregnant. A teenager told she was going to have a baby who would be a king. Stinky smelly shepherds told to go see the Messiah of royal lineage being born as a baby.
Each of them were told to not be afraid of what lay ahead. Nor were they told to passively sit back and let come what may. Rather they were encouraged to take action, to move into the unknown, scary future, to anticipate its sweet goodness, to great it with joy.
A gay man in the shadows of life’s twilight, yet the brightness of life’s awakening, faces an aging body with a hungry heart. The vagaries of society has dealt a blow that sends a shiver of fear coursing through his body. The fear that life will pass him by without the pleasure of full and complete love gnaws at him. Is there a word from God, an angel to say, “Don’t be afraid; take the next step”?
For the uncle—his prayers would be answered and the angel promised joy for Zechariah and that “many will rejoice at the birth.”
For the dad—his fiancé would be spared humiliation and life-destroying accusations and give birth to a savior.
For the mother—she would be the mother of a special baby called Son of God.
For the shepherds—they were able to be of the first to worship the Jews’ long-awaite Messiah who would bring peace to the earth.
For the gay man—will he have days with full and complete love given and received?
The uncle, a religious leader, who blessed an apparent illegitimate birth—received joy.
The dad, in fear of humiliation—received peace.
The mother, a young teenager in the unsettledness of beginning adulthood—received joy.
The shepherds, on the fringe of polite society—received joy.
The gay man, fearful on the cultural fringe of society—will receive _______ .
Don’t be afraid.
Embrace the future
You will find peace and joy.
Fear is worthy of our contemplation this Christmas season. These thoughts on fear come from meditating on a study guided by my pastor during mid-week Bible study. The study prompted me to think about fears we face.
Is your fear that you might lose your job, that you can’t find a job and your retirement funds are almost depleted, that you’ll never be able to walk again, that your mom or dad or sister or brother or child may never speak to your again, that ___________ (put your fear in the blank)?
One of my fears that strongly stends out in the hours of my days is my fear that I will never have mutual and reciprocal love. This fear is accentuated by the brevity of life and quickly fleeting time. I fear ending life without the comfort, peace, and joy of having experienced such love. (This in no way detracts from the love I shared with Barbara my wife with whom I lived for 45 years. That is another blog post I’m working on. Stay tuned.)