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I’m struggling to find words today. I’m tempted to just re-post my piece “Herod’s Long Shadow” from a year ago.
And I’m tempted to take back some of what I said two weeks ago. The power of vulnerability? This week: the horrors of vulnerability.
The deaths from Friday’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, simply do not seem so far away. It could have been anywhere. An elementary school. Teachers. Six year olds. Newtown, Anytown, Your Town. How do we face Monday morning after such a catastrophic Friday?
The kids had drilled for this. The school was secured. The guns were legally owned. What could have prevented it? Who could have known? Despite all our efforts to ensure safety, especially safety for our littlest and most dependent ones, must we accept defeat, steel ourselves for the next inevitable and unpredictable tragedy? Must we live in fear of the worst? Does it just go downhill from here?
“Do not be afraid,” we hear at this time of year. Says the angel to Zechariah, “do not be afraid.” Says the angel to Mary, “do not be afraid.” Says the angel to the shepherds, “do not be afraid.” Says Jesus a whole bunch of times, “do not fear.”
I think it’s the hardest commandment in the Bible. Or maybe the hardest invitation to accept.
Fear not, despite the evidence.
Fear not, against your better judgment.
Fear not, and get some people to help you. You can’t do it alone.
The cherished traditions of Christmas in a place like Newtown are robbed of their comfort. But the Christmas that points to a God in fragile flesh, that Christmas can stay. It can throb with the rhythm of pain that is Newtown’s heartbeat right now, and throb with the ache that resonates in all of us. That Christmas we will keep. Yes, the one where the solid foundation of God’s limitless love subjected itself to the slippery slope of mortal life, to the limits of skin and bone and breath.
The one where fear and love converge.
Mary traveling late in her third trimester. Scary. No shelter for the night. Scary. Going into labor in animals’ lodging. Being far from home. Running away to hide in Egypt because a deranged grown-up is going to hunt down innocent toddlers. Scary scary scary.
Perfect love casts out fear, says 1 John 4:18. Our human love is far from perfect, that’s for sure, and a far cry from the kind of love that can dissipate fear altogether. Lord knows we’re human, and Lord knows things take time. God submitted to the drawn-out timelines of gestation and child development, after all.
I will fear no evil, says the psalmist, even in the valley of the shadow of death. For You, God, are there with me. We yearn for God to make love’s victory instantaneous and complete; God yearns to journey with us through the depths of fear, and patiently teaches us to love along the way.
Today, behold the mysterious God-child who came to join us in our fear, the one who reveals the suffering-with sort of love that alone can restore us to our full humanity.
Today there is good reason to tremble in fear.
And there is good reason to venture out in love.
May the God who meets us in our fear and sorrow take us by the hand and lead us out in love.