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Do not be afraid, the heavenly messengers said. To Mary. To Joseph. To shepherds. To you. And to me. Do not be afraid they whispered and shouted. Do not be afraid for the light is coming, a glorious impossible has come to be. Mary must have been frightened when she heard the news that she, a young unmarried poor girl, would bear the son of God. Joseph must have been frightened when he heard that he would not be able to quietly dismiss Mary but would marry her and raise this child. The shepherds must have been frightened when they were startled by angels’ song on that hillside one night. The angels themselves must have been frightened when God told them about the daring plan, the glorious impossible. How could it be that God would become mortal? How could it be that God would put the divine self in danger? How could it be that a peasant girl would give birth to him? How could it be that God would enter into the world at all, let alone dependent on other human beings? How could it be? And why did it have to be? Why did God have to enter into this world, helpless and powerless? Do not be afraid, the heavenly messengers said.
It had to be, though, didn’t it? The glorious impossible. It had to be so that we would know the full measure of God’s love for us. It had to be so that the world might be saved not through power and might but through love and humility. It had to be so that we would know that we do not have to be afraid anymore. It’s a frightening world, this world in which we live. Lately it has seemed more so. The darkness seems to be growing darker. Peace seems a lovely idea but far off, indeed. Justice seems impossible and far too late in arriving. The gap between rich and poor is getting wider and wider. The most vulnerable among us are being pushed farther and farther to the margins; their voices are begin silenced. Shelters are closing and tables are empty. Violence reigns supreme and unchecked. People are so overwhelmed by life that they consume and consume and consume in hopes that they will find relief and satisfaction. And fear is our go-to response. We’re afraid of the stranger, of the unknown, of uncertainty, of change, of what others think, of being wrong. The world tells us to be afraid and then feeds on our fear. But God keeps sending messengers who tell us not to be afraid. Prophets of old and prophets in our time tell us of salvation and good news and the way things ought to be. And the good news is not just for us but for the whole world.
Mary’s song in Luke tells us of a savior who will look with favor on the lowly, who will scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, who will bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly, who will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. Mary, this young unmarried poor girl, willing servant of Almighty God, sings of salvation and the goodness of God. She sings of a world turned upside down and made right. She sings of what she knows will come to be through this child she carries. Do not be afraid the angel told her. All will be well.
There is an altar in a small crypt chapel of the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth in the Holy Land. It is said to be the location where Mary first heard she was going to have a baby and be a part of God’s daring plan, the glorious impossible. There are some Latin words carved on the altar, verbum caro hic factum est. “The Word was made flesh here.” That little word hic gives this familiar statement particularity. I’m sure it is meant to refer to the specific geographical location of that place but in a larger sense, it tells us that the incarnation of God means that God became flesh here on Earth, for you and for me. The incarnation means that we can speak of God’s particularity, the nearness of God. Incarnation means that God walks with us on Earth, and that if we are saved anywhere, it is right here, in this place, on this Earth.
Do not be afraid, the heavenly messengers say. Do not be afraid when the darkness is overwhelming. Do not be afraid when grief and pain are too hard to bear. Do not be afraid when it seems that power and might and greed will win. Do not be afraid when it feels as though all is lost for God came down to be one of us, to enter into our darkness to shine the light. God came down to show us what love looks like and to remind us that love will win. Do not be afraid, the heavenly messengers say, love has come to stay.
Rev. Alex Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church
December 24, 2017 5:30pm
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030