“Be not afraid.”
These words are not just a minor part of a few Christmas stories. They run throughout the Bible, as God, Jesus, and angels try to reassure the people of God. God addresses the fears of Abram (Genesis 15), Moses (Exodus 3), and Elijah (I Kings 19). Jesus seeks to calm the fears of his disciples when they see him walking on water (Matthew 14:27, Mark 6:50, John 6:20), and when they first see him after the resurrection in Luke and John. Angels use these words to begin their announcements to Zechariah (John the Baptist’s dad), Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, and to the women at the tomb in Matthew and Mark. Humans being afraid, and God responding “Be not afraid,” is more a consistent theme in the Bible than a single incident.
This phrase is about more than reassurance, though. It is also a request for trust. God, Jesus, and the angels do not change the perceived danger, scariness, or anxiety in the situation. They simply say “Be not afraid” in spite of the continuation of the experience. God desires our trust in all manner of times, places, and events.
There are a lot of things we can fear about our current situation. We have begun a “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” way of living for the next few weeks, which means our office will now be closed. Our bishop has extended the cancellation of worship services, meetings, and gatherings until the end of April (see message below). This continues to be new territory for us. We worry about getting the virus. We worry about friends and neighbors. We wonder what life will be like in these conditions, and what further changes may be ahead. We wonder when things will return to “normal,” and what the effect will be on people, businesses, our church, and our community. We wonder what we can do about any of this.
Be not afraid. Trust in God. That doesn’t mean expect a miraculous end to the situation, although with God anything can happen. It means that no matter what happens, know that God is with you. Let the knowledge of God’s presence bring you peace. Let that peace calm your heart and mind. Let that calmness guide your thoughts and prayers. Then you will know what you can do.
To put it in terms of our church membership vows, we can still find ways to be in service and to witness to those around us. I mentioned phone calls last week. Keeping in touch with others will help us as well as them. Maintaining physical distance from others when we’re at the store shows respect for them. Making soup available for people to pick up helps our community. You may think of more ways to be in service or witness.
We can also continue to support our church through our gifts, even if we aren’t taking up an offering on Sunday mornings. They can be mailed to the church, or you can set up payment with your bank on-line. If you have questions about how to do that, you can give me a call.
As I also wrote last week, we can continue to support ourselves, our families, our church community, and the world through our prayers. And, although we cannot gather together in person, we can be present in spirit with our church family simply by thinking of them.
Be not afraid. It is in God that we trust.