Over the last month, what has stood out to me as I meditate on the Christmas story is perhaps a reflection of what this year has been like both globally and personally: the prolific amount of interruptions in the lives of the people in the Christmas story.
I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Can you imagine the complete change in Elizabeth and Mary’s plans – on both ends of their lives? But they welcomed the (unusual) interruption with a willingness and an anticipation that I doubt I could have.
Then there’s the innkeeper. All the inns in Bethlehem were full (a good problem for them of course), and he could easily turn away this interruption as others had done (that most likely wouldn’t benefit him). But he didn’t, and we remember him as the man who didn’t turn away the Messiah.
Then the shepherds, living their regular daily lives, watching their sheep. Probably frightened out of their wits when an unbelievable amount of angels filled the skies. Sounds story-book really. Still, after the sky emptied, they went to the manger and found Jesus there – just as the angel had said. And from then on: lives interrupted, never to be the same. But they ran to welcome this Messiah everyone had been waiting hundreds of years for.
True, this was about a good interruption, for a hope that brought joy and peace. But it still meant the unknown, a change not planned for, fear, possible rejection, a pause for an indefinite amount of time or a completely new direction. For the wise men, they packed up everything in search of something they weren’t even sure of.
And the list goes on: Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph again on their way to Egypt, Herod. oh. wait. Herod. This guy… like them, he was also interrupted and also afraid. And out of his fear, insecurity, jealousy, he reacted in the opposite extreme.
But here’s the crux – where it hits home, because sometimes I’m more like Herod than Mary. No, I’m not killing toddlers, but I have often responded to fear with fear. And that isn’t a solution. It only creates more fear in us and others.
Honestly, most of the interruptions in our lives aren’t the good kind. Most of them don’t promise good news, hope and joy. Most of them do bring fear, the unknown, possible rejection.
When I read the Advent story, I’m also comforted by the amount of times Gabriel has to tell everyone “Don’t be afraid”. Because Mary was. Zechariah was. Joseph was. The Shepherds were. Who wouldn’t be? Who isn’t when it’s the unknown, the unpredictable, the unplanned?
These are the words I cling to in my life. And the fact that they were afraid – even in the face of good news. Like it’s okay.
The thing is -we’re going to be interrupted. By outsiders – like Mary and Joseph did to the innkeeper. Or personally, like Joseph who found himself marrying a pregnant girl (not with his child).
And being afraid is natural.
Maybe that’s why the words of “o little town of Bethlehem” have really caught me this year:
“Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight.”
We’re not alone. I believe there is One who meets our fears, takes our fears, and in the end, changes it to hope. And if you don’t believe in the Christmas story, the essence is still true – we’re not alone and we are – in the end – part of what the Christmas story is also about: hope. Our response to our fears is so key.
It’s finding the willpower, the fight to respond to that fear with “let it be” (Mary), or respond with the right thing to do even though others around you may whisper against you (Joseph), or it inconveniences you (the innkeeper), or you don’t understand it (Zachariah)… Or maybe you make the choice to hurt others (Herod).
I know it’s not profound. I know that this can sound over-simplified. I know I haven’t faced the situations that others have, but I hope that I will not add to their pain by reacting wrongly out of my own. I can only hope (and I know not always, not always will it work out so easily) that I can bring hope for others.