Typically when I read Luke 2:8-14, it’s Linus’s voice that I hear in my head, telling us “what Christmas is all about.”* But, as I read the words this year, the phrase ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν struck me. The NRSV translates it as “terrified,” but the phrase connotes some appropriately fearful reverence—the stuff of awe-inspired worship. Today, we so rarely use the phrase God-fearing, but many biblical encounters describe this sort of reverent fear of the divine.
At the turn of the year I often see the question,”What would you do if you were not afraid?” It’s an evocative question that can help uncover assumed obstacles and stir up possibilities within us. Fears can stop us in our tracks, and being able to articulate our fears can help us acknowledge them and move through the fear toward responsive action. It makes me wonder how the shepherds living on the hillside moved past their initial response (ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν) and started walking to Bethlehem. The message for them is, in part, to not be afraid.
Then again, maybe fearful awe is an important accompaniment to faithful action. Maybe the question we should be asking isn’t “What would you do if you were not afraid?” Maybe instead we should be asking ourselves, “What might you do if you responded to the awestruck fear and allowed it to guide you into action?”
*Mendelson, Lee, Charles M. Schultz, Bill Melendez, Vince Guaraldi, Robert T. Gillis, David Benoit, Chuck McCann, et al. 2008. A Charlie Brown Christmas. Burbank, Calif: Warner Home Video).
Recently my husband was talking with someone about how to establish a Potluck Church in her town, and the inquirer remarked how easily he spoke about eating a meal in memory of Christ. “It seems to roll off of your tongue—this experience of eating with Christ.”
Setting a plate and cup for Christ at our worship meal is a weekly practice for us. Is it symbolic? Yes, but it’s more than that. It’s an acknowledgment of Immanuel—God with us. He is here as we worship. He is here at this table. He is here, ready to sit at all of our tables.
Revelation 3:20 (NRSV) teaches, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” What a gift! To eat with Christ.
Immanuel. Truly present. God with us.
Merry Christmas to you and all that grace your table!
This week our Potluck Church worship gathering will be mobile. We’ll gather to light our Advent candle of joy, and then we’ll head out into the community to go caroling.
It’s a fun thing to do, caroling—silly, even. But it is a great way to spread the joy of Christmas. We are all invited to bring names of those we’d like to visit. Sometimes the name is of someone who is sick, or lonely, or just in need of some cheer. Other times it’s someone that we are missing in our lives, and we just want to reconnect. Once we encountered a farmer looking for his lost bull! On another occasion we caroled to a friend in his bathrobe. These are some of our fun caroling memories that make us laugh and, over the years, are becoming the stuff of legends.
There are other special memories, too—times when we got to see God at work right before our eyes. Like when a son asked if we might carol to his father, because they had not spoken in over a year. There were tears all around. And in the midst of that reunion, it made us wonder if we had just experienced the sort of joy that Jesus was talking about in his parable told in Luke 15 when the prodigal father and the prodigal younger son meet. It was a great, great joy!
Maybe tomorrow night we’ll get the honor once again to bring good news of a great joy that is for all of the people (Luke 2:10).
[After reading the poem “The Plastic Angel” by Ann Weems, extend the invitation by saying. . .]
Sometimes we come to this table feeling sort of plastic, as if our own annunciations are feeble—filled with doubt. But from the beginning, this table has always been a place that made room for those who doubt, those who misunderstand, those who talk a good game, those who miss the messages, those who loose hope, and those who lack glory. And, yet, Jesus welcomed them around the table.
There is a place for us here.
[See Ann Weems, “The Plastic Angel,” in Kneeling in Bethlehem (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1987), 43. Currently available to be viewed via Google Books.]
written by Rachel
Set a table, invite Christ and others, leave an empty chair, serve up some powerful questions, and break bread.