When the Gospel writers finally got around to putting all those stories about Jesus down on paper (ok, papyrus), only two of them bothered to tell of his birth–Matthew and Luke. And what different versions they tell! There is one thing, however, upon which they agree–every time an angel is sent forth to bring a word from God, they begin their speech with the words “Fear not.” You almost get the idea that part of an angel’s basic training includes instructions on how to keep from scaring people to death. “Oh, and before you go, don’t forget she’s only a young teenager. Be sure to start with ‘Fear not.’ Here, try your speech out on me. I’ll be Mary. Remember, begin with ‘Fear not’.”

That is sound advice, of course, since angelic encounters most certainly were frightening experiences. Frederick Buechner, in his novel On the Road with the Archangel describes the various angelic encounters with those saints and sinners over the years but from the perspective of the angel:

What they saw of me was about as much as a child’s hand can hold of the sea, but it was enough. A fire burned before them like no other fire. A fragrance fresher than the roses of Sharon filled the air, and the leaves of the trees tossed like plumes though there was no wind stirring. There was the sound of as many voices singing as there are stars in the sky. There was a silence deeper than the deepest well.

Their wonder was so great that they . . . hid their faces in their hands. . . . “Don’t be afraid,” I told them, and when finally they took their hands from their faces, I was gone.

Mary is told not to be afraid, even though she has every right to be scared out of her wits. She is young, inexperienced, a mere child according to most scholars. And here she is, about to conceive God’s own son in her womb. “Don’t be afraid, Mary.” Yeah, right!

Two thousand years later there is still plenty to be petrified of in this crazy world in which we live. The list is predictable. In middle-class America we might think of losing our jobs, the cost of college, a marriage headed downhill, health issues and so forth. Or if we’re thinking bigger picture, various global hot spots come to mind, along with millions of children dying every day from starvation. “Don’t be afraid.” Yeah, right!

It helps, of course, to remember that the name Jesus means “God saves.” It also helps to remember that Mary is not the only one to find favor with God. May this season of Advent find you experiencing the blessings of God, with whom you, too, have found favor. And may you not be afraid. Shalom.