Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Two Most Important Words of Christmas Eve

Imagine if you had not spoken in four hundred years.

All those years to think about what you would say when you finally said something.

Now, imagine you are God.

According to the historical record, as the curtain closed on the bleak end of the Old Testament, God went strangely silent.

Things were bad in Israel, the heart of his people were far from him, their nation and people were in tatters. The future was uncertain, old alliances were fractured, friendships had been broken, security was lost,  the economy was depressed, families were split apart, up was down, and down was up.

And God goes silent.

You'd expect him to speak because at that point you'd figure people would pay attention. You'd figure.

But instead he goes silent. Generations pass. A people fizzle out into disinterested captivity. God is forgotten. A few reckon that God has forgotten them.

Only, God never forgets.

And then there is Christmas Eve, the first one.

A few years ago, the story has picked up a bit, the plot appears to have some juice to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Something is astir.

The desert wind blows a bit differently, the leaves are rustling in the trees, creation itself seems to be in a state of uncertain anticipation.

And something finally happens. It's not on the big screen, in Silicon Valley, in the financial centers, or in the major media markets. It's in a backwater town. One with historical significance, mind you - it's the ancestral city of the great King David of Israel - but those days have long passed. Now, there's a new king in town, an Emperor to be exact. This one's not ruddy of face and beautiful of countenance and noble of spirit as much as he is pudgy of face and sharp-eyed and full of appetite.

A baby is born, of uncertain provenance, under sketchy circumstances, in an extra room customarily used to feed animals, tonight pressed into service because there is, well, no room in the inn.

And, you know the rest of the story, at least sort of, most of you. The baby is born back in the mud room and hardly anyone notices.

Certainly the shepherds, with unshaven faces and dirt under their fingernails, aren't aware. It's another night in the salt mines for those guys, another workaday evening in their workaday world. Counting the damn sheep yet again.

And then the angels, sent from God. And then their words, God breathed words.

The first words from a seemingly silent heaven in nearly half a millennium.

God's first words in nearly four hundred years. Two words.

What would you think they would be?

"Hey, listen!"

"OK, then..."

"Be quiet!"

Angry or commanding or judging words, to be sure. Words designed to put the sinners (most everyone except the religious people with titles) in their place. Words designed to separate the good from the bad, the holy from the unholy, the in from the out, the acceptable from the marginalized, people like us from people like them.

Religious words, no doubt. I mean, keep a god silent for four hundred years and surely he's going to issue commandments or institute a new ritual or instill a new code of morality so that people - who had gone quite slack, the truth be told - would know to shape up or ship out. At the very least, they'd be able to define where they stood on the continuum of good and bad.

Maybe a call to arms. It's time to take back the promised land, people. It's been four hundred years and things aren't nearly as good as they used to be. We've gotten away from what's made us great! And that Emperor is a dunce and a corrupt, lying one at that - we need to get rid of him and get some god-fearing, upright people in there. After all, if we don't stand up for right, who will? And now, after four hundred years of silence, we've finally got a god speaking to us to tell us what to do and where to go. Right, God?


And then.

The first two words after four hundred years. Whatever they are, they are going to be important. They are going to be revealing.

Imagine yourself silent for that long. Finally you can speak and the people you love the most are gathered in front of you, hanging on your every word. How can you pack four hundred years into two words, how can you pack yourself into two words?

After four hundred years, God speaks these two words:

Fear not.

Just that.

Fear not.

Don't be afraid.

Don't tremble.

The words had a literal meaning. By all accounts, angels were fearsome creatures to behold.

But push beyond the obvious, remember that these words are from God.

The one thing I want to tell you, people, he is saying, is "Fear not".

Wherever you are, whatever you have done, wherever you have been - there is nothing to be afraid of.

You are admitted into God's good graces, without prelude, without ritual, without the right words.

You don't have to hide anymore, you don't have to hide others anymore, you don't have to hide your heart anymore.

God speaks not in the language of revolution or religion or morality or politics or judgment or show business but in the manner of a parent to a child:

Fear not.

Don't be afraid.

The rightful King has come back. He is here, where and when you least expect him, in a way you never would have dreamt, and he is going to set everything right.  He has not forgotten you. How could he?

Now, it won't be easy and it won't be quick.

There's misunderstanding and mocking and exile and betrayal and a fearsome death and three dark, cold, lonely, terrifying, silent days of death to come.

But, even given what is and what will be and what you fear might be at 3 AM when you can't sleep...fear not.

Because after the pain and after the cold, lonely desert will come life and will come victory and will come forgiveness and families riven apart will embrace again and nations will throw down their weapons and shake their heads wondering what they were thinking and the poor and foolish will try on new robes of unimaginably luxurious texture and the sick and "ugly" will possess a beauty so fair and an elegance so breathtaking that you won't be able to turn your eyes away.

Everything will be turned upside down, well and truly, and right will come round again.

You'll laugh at the thing you fear the most. You'll embrace the thing you thought you had lost forever. You'll defeat the ugly, grasping claws of that resentment, that addiction, that abuse that has endeavored for years to drag you down.

And when you laugh and embrace and break free you'll live that way too - not motivated by fear to grimace and judge and push away and push down anymore.

No matter what has come and what will, those are the two words with which to begin Christmas Eve and with which to end your life:

Fear not.

For behold these are the great tidings of the good news.

For unto you has been born this day in the city of David a new King. The once and future and always King.

Forever and ever.


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