Before Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had some major hurdles to overcome. Theirs is a tale of courage in the face of immense challenges. The roots of the Christmas story have nothing to do with trees, elves, or gift wrap (though these can certainly serve as lovely accoutrements).
Instead, at the heart of the Christmas story is one family who refused to allow the insidious nature of fear to pervade their lives. After Jesus was born, all wasn't eternal merriment and delight. Quite the contrary. Mary and Joseph lived in perplexing times! The political climate was unstable and a maniacal ruler named Herod was murdering children in the search for an infant king.
Mary and Joseph persevered. They were the epitome of resilience. From the moment they found out that she was going to birth that totally unexpected baby, Mary and Joseph clung tightly to the truth that love is stronger than fear. Even when they were living as refugees in Egypt (yes, it's true; our King of Kings spent a season of life as a toddler refugee), they held onto hope.
In spite of it all, Mary and Joseph refused to bite on to the fearful lures that were strung about them. The bait was there … they could've chosen to live in utter, constant fear. But they refused. They refused to let fear take over their brains and lives.
It's a contemporary storyline.
There are loads of toxic fear being spewed about these days. The content of the spewing: gross, disgusting, throw-up. Fear vomit. It's everywhere. Some days it feels like everywhere I look, I'm being fed lies about more things/people/ideas of which to be afraid.
Like Mary and Joseph, we, too, are being baited with fear. On the campaign trail and the morning news. In the break room. On our Facebook walls. Fear, fear, fear.
Fear is defined as "a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid."
We've all felt fear, and it's a consuming, overwhelming emotional state. Jesus mentions the topic a lot. And when he speaks about fear, he generally says the same thing: "Don't be afraid" (see Matthew 14:27 and John 14:27 for two examples).
Friends, hear me when I say: We're being collectively manipulated into being afraid of the wrong things! We're being fed lies about entire people groups and religions. Our own good intentions — to build communities of safety, peace, and security — are being used against us. We're being baited with the idea that in order to experience security, we need to exclude, judge, and condemn.
But that's a lie. That's a total lie. And it isn't the Gospel. In fact, this kind of exclusionary thinking is the opposite of the heart of Christmas.
I know sometimes the world appears scary and dangerous. I get it. I live here, too. But being afraid isn't a sustainable solution. When we're afraid, a whole different system in our brain takes over. We can't think logically, problem-solve, or compromise when we're afraid, and those are the kinds of things we're going to need to be able to do if we want to live in a compassionate world of justice and peace.
The same holds true whether we're talking about family conflict, immigrant legislation, or interfaith relations: Fear shuts us down, but love opens us up.
I'm not describing mushy-gushy love. I'm talking about neighborly love. The kind of love that says, "Hey, you're a human and I'm a human. And here we both are on this planet! I want the best for you, fellow human. And I trust that you want the best for me, too. Let's stop being afraid and work together." That's love!
The fear tide can turn. In fact, it is turning. There a signs of love in the face of fear all around us.
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, God says in chapter 41, verse 10, "Fear not, for I am with you." We don't have to be afraid. In fact, we are commanded not to be afraid. Instead, we get to live in love. As Christmas draws near, may we join together in turning off whatever conjures up fear in our lives. Instead, let's turn toward the images, movies, music, and conversations which lead to love. It starts within our own hearts.
God, give us the courage you gave to Mary and Joseph, that we, too, might choose love over fear.