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).
written by Rachel
Set a table, invite Christ and others, leave an empty chair, serve up some powerful questions, and break bread.