We live in times where fear is a regular part of life. People often feel afraid – sometimes very afraid. For themselves, for their future – for their children, for our earth, and for our world.
It’s why I’ve been trying to learn more about fear, and anxiety, and what it means to live in anxious times.
Most of all, I’ve been trying to learn about what’s helpful – for individuals and for whole communities – who are feeling increasingly, and persistently afraid.
What I’ve learned is that perhaps the least helpful thing to tell someone who is feeling anxious and afraid is: don’t be afraid.
I don’t know….maybe it’s more effective when pronounced by a celestial being….
But it’s why I have come to think of those words so commonly uttered by angels – to not be afraid – not as words of reassurance, or comfort – as they likely wouldn’t have been….but more like a spell they are casting – a fantastical, magical start of something entirely new that they are commanding in that moment take place.
It’s something like the words spoken by God in Genesis – that is, an act of creation, where words – just speaking words – make a whole universe come into being.
Don’t be afraid – the angels say. And right then, it was done.
Fear makes even the best good news hard to hear, and keeps us stuck in a story we think we already know. It keeps us suspicious, unwilling to receive relief even when it arrives singing in glorias and shining a light to overcome the darkness.
But this is a story that wants turn our understandings upside down, a story that seeks to disrupt our dis-ease with a powerful promise of healing and salvation – salve, as in make well an injury, make whole – as in, a promise to heal whatever has been keeping us disconnected from ourselves, from others, from God.
It is incredible, how turned-upside-down this story is. To imagine that the liberator for all people would begin his life in a feeding trough. Or, that the first to hear of this good news would be shepherds tending sheep. Or that the whole thing would be dependent on the choice of a teenage girl living in Nazareth, a town that was especially known as a place where nothing good could ever happen.
Which is why the angels had to get a handle on the fear, first of all. So much here is territory previously untold, unimagined – there is no way it could take hold in hearts caught up like so many of us today are caught, in the loops of what if, and why, and what’s going to happen, and can I fix it, can anyone….?
Which is why I am not going to remind us tonight – to fear not. Not just because I long ago realized that my power as a Unitarian Universalist minister does not include commanding something into immediate reality….But even more because what I have found fear actually needs most of all is to be seen, and acknowledged, and witnessed.
It is an irony that any of the feelings we might wish would go far far away...that wishing them away only makes them stronger, and more long lasting.
And so, instead I invite us to lean into that fear that we so often find in ourselves, and in our world. Tend to it and honor it. Catch each other’s tears and breathe together through the trembling. Fear softens with the listening.
Which will help us to remember the star.
Not just a single star, actually, but billions and billions of stars resilient and resourceful. The stars remind us of the light that endures through it all – the light that shines in us and through us as we remember that courage does not mean we are not afraid, but only that we remember who we are: Filled still with this light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.