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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Fr. Bob Warren's Weekly Reflection: God is With You; Do Not Be Afraid

Franciscan Friars
God is With You; Do Not Be Afraid
(Matthew 1:18-24)
One of the most frequent assurances in scripture is one you hear from Matthew in this gospel. "Do not be afraid." It dots the old and new testaments. Before making a covenant with Moses, the Lord tells him, be not afraid. Gabriel tells a terrified Daniel, do not be afraid. An angel tells the father of John the Baptist, Zachariah, do not be afraid. Gabriel said to Mary, troubled in being told she is to have a child, do not be afraid. Shepherds startled by the Christmas glory that shone around were told by angels, do not be afraid.
Jesus tells Peter, fearful at an amazing net-breaking catch of fish, and the disciples thinking He was a ghost walking on water, do not be afraid. Then to the disciples at the Transfiguration and Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, do not be afraid. And so today, an angel assures Joseph, do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
What does this say to you and me? Do not be afraid—what does it mean? It is not a blanket prohibition, as if fear were a Jewish or Christian contradiction. At times we have good reason to be afraid. Like when you lose your job after many years with the same company. In some of our cities, people are afraid because guns, coke and cracks are kings of the streets. People are afraid when they have no access to health care or health insurance. When they are hungry or homeless. People are afraid when they are addicted to drugs, alcohol or afflicted with cancer or AIDs. People are afraid when they are young and vulnerable. Elderly and lonely, middle aged and unhappy with your life. Wasn't Jesus afraid in the garden of His agony when He begged his Father, if possible, not to let Him die.
How do we understand the Lord's "Do Not Be Afraid?" What is the positive side of the coin? Isaiah gives us a clue. The Lord will give you a sign. A woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means "God is with us." Not simply everywhere, as God must be, but with us, in a unique way as never before. Here is God in our flesh and blood. God walking as we walk. Hungry as we hunger. Tired as we tire. God healing human illness with a touch. Instilling courage into hopeless hearts, and yet this God would be betrayed with a kiss. Lashed with whips, crowned with thorns, nailed to a cross. Rising and ascending to the Father, yet remaining with us in the sacrament of the altar. So what does this say to fear? It tells us that God is not only in His heaven, but with us, to save us.
This is what the name Jesus means. Remember the gospel. "You are to name Him Jesus, for He will save this people, not only from sin, but also from fear. Neither God nor God's angels are playing psychiatrist when they say, "Do not be afraid." The gospels are not a mini-course therapy for dissolving fear. There has to be a certain amount of fear in life. Fear of going through a red light. Fear of letting a baby drive the car. The gospel is concerned over those fears that paralyze me and could destroy my oneness with God, the fear that keeps me from trusting in God. That way that God trusted Himself to us. He trusted Himself to a teenage mother and a foster father. He trusted Himself to 12 friends. He trusted Himself to a people of His own creation who crucified Him. And He still trusts Himself to us as he comes to us, resting in our hands or on our tongues, just asking to be allowed into our hearts, into our lives.
What we have at Christmas is a terrible desire on God's part to be with us, to be part of us, to be part of our human condition, to be part of our losses, our recessions, our disappointed and fractured relationships, to be part of the death we have experienced this year, not only the death of a loved one, but all those lesser forms of death—lovelessness and loneliness.
Christmas is not the end to all fear, but it should be the beginning of a fresh love. Fresh love for a God who became what we are so that we might become like Him. This year, try to see in the Christmas crib a challenge, an assurance, a challenge to love somewhat as this Child loved, terribly vulnerable, but always arms outstretched. Try to feel the assurance of Emmanuel—God with us. Christmas does not automatically cast out fear. Go to Mass, carol like crazy, kneel at the manger and fear will evaporate. All the problems disappear. That may or may not happen, but at Mass, receiving your Lord, kneeling at the Crib, should let you know, should let you feel that God is with you. God loving, God caring, so do not be afraid, for unto you is born a Savior, and His name shall be Emmanuel, which means God is with us.
Dostoyevsky, the great Russian writer, once wrote, "Love is a harsh and dreadful thing." Harsh is being born into a stable, and dreadful is dying on a cross with holes in your body. This Christmas kneel at the crib, but then look up at the Cross, and think to yourself, "All this for me... do not be afraid."
Fr. Robert Warren
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Robert Warren Signature
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A.
Spiritual Director
P.S. On December 25th, the Friars of the Atonement will celebrate a special Christmas Novena of Masses beginning on Christmas Day. Join with us by sending your most heartfelt petitions to me now. Let us come together as we celebrate Christmas this year and thank the Lord for all we have.

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