Fear not

Tim Costello finds comfort this Christmas in God's call for us to fear not in the midst of anxieties both real and imagined.

In Melbourne we have virtually run out of Covid-19 self-testing kits and we fear our Christmas gatherings may yet be cancelled. With my 92-year-old mother very unwell and in the end stages of her life I fear she will not live for a last Christmas, or if somehow I get infected I will be prevented from seeing her.

But I have taken comfort and admit to some surprise that reading the first Christmas story has spoken directly to my current anxieties. I had never realised that a central theme is about human anxiety.

The angels announce the birth first to shepherds, night shift-workers out in freezing weather, with the words “Fear not”. Typically nobody bothers with underpaid labourers or thinks of them first, nor shows concern for their anxieties.

Before that, an angel announced “Fear not” to Mary, an unmarried young woman; you, Mary, are somebody and God favours you. When Joseph decides to discreetly break off with his pregnant fiancée the angel appears to him and says “Fear not, Joseph”. This is a planned pregnancy – just a little out of the culture’s norms. Do not judge her or feel judged by others.

To an elderly childless couple named Elizabeth and Zechariah the angel says “Fear not” because you are going to have a child. That hope had almost certainly died and was no doubt replaced by bitterness at the anxiety of infertility. But Elizabeth becomes pregnant with their child to be called John.

Human anxiety runs deep. We are anxious that we are nobodies and that we do not matter; that the people we love most will die and that things we enjoy most, like Christmas, will be cancelled. The Christmas message is “Fear not, because you are seen and you are loved”.