Terrified. We read this story each year as a sweet, pastoral example of the message of God coming to the poorest of the people. Terrified. The shepherds were minding their own business--the sheep--one sleepy night. Some were probably pondering life while others were preparing to bed down for the evening. Perhaps there were some who had already drifted off to sleep. Then BAM, angels. They were not merely startled or honored or curious as we sometimes portray, but terrified (frightened, horrified, scared, petrified, shocked, panicked, alarmed—scared stiff!) I think of all the ways people who are afraid respond in fear. I suppose they could have whipped out their slingshots and began firing at the light of the Lord. They could have run away, leaving their sheep and responsibilities. Perhaps they could not respond with either fight or flight because they were scared motionless. Adrenaline coursing through their veins, but their muscles were rebelling against them.
We live in a world of terror. Terrorism seems to be such a talked about topic that it has become a caricature of what terror is actually. The media, pundits, and politicians whip people into a frenzy—an irrational, foolish, crazy-people-run-amok frenzy. The talking heads tell us who to be afraid of, who to blame, who to fight, who to flee, but not how to have calm, how to have peace, how not to be afraid. The purpose of terrorism is to incite terror. For terrorism to win, we must be terrified and live out that terror in our actions and relationships with one another. All those who stir up this fear in the public (media, politicians, religious folks, others) are terrorists—in that they promote terror.
Those things we do to protect ourselves, are often the very things that wind up hurting us the most. Those safety mechanisms, like closing ourselves off from others or refusing to help others, end up doing more damage to our spirit—our souls—than any possible physical damage that is unlikely to happen anyway. We are terrified, and so we respond, often without thought as to the long-term consequences. But this is not the way God created us to live. God created us to be in community with one another, even those we do not know at all or very well. God created us to live out the example of Christ in caring for the least, the last, the lost, the marginalized.
As long as we are scared and reactionary, our fear gets the better of us. Did you know the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear? Fear grips us and keeps us from fulfilling the life we have in Christ as children of God. We either want to fight at things that we cannot possibly see or engage, or we want to run from our responsibilities and soothe our souls by telling ourselves the world isn’t our responsibility. Or we are scared stiff, motionless, unable to do anything right or wrong, and so we do nothing.
The shepherds could not respond to the message of the angels if they hid in their fearful and closed off cocoons. They would not have witnessed the birth of the one to save their people. They would have hidden away, never living out the potential God had for them.
How do you hide from the things that you fear? Do you give your fears to God? Or do you cling to them like a security blanket, telling yourself that worry is what keeps the worst at bay? This Advent, how can you move from reacting in fear to stepping out in faith to the message of God?