Fear and joy: the angels’ Christmas message speaks of two strong, contradictory feelings. The angels’ Christmas message: “Do not be afraid!” says the angel to the shepherds tending their sheep outside the gates of the town of Bethlehem. If you follow the Christmas story, at first glance, it is the unexpected light that startles the shepherds. The “clarity of the Lord,” who comes into the world and its darkness, is the first thing that spreads fear among us humans—as astonishing as this may sound. But it is not necessary for God to come into the world for us to be afraid. Fear and trembling—this is the basic human condition that grips us over and over again as our lives and history change.
These days, we can look beyond our borders and out into the world. With the threat of terrorist attacks and violence in Ukraine, Israel, and Palestine, peace does not appear to be in the cards.
“Do not be afraid,” says the angel to the shepherds. He contrasts their fear with the joy of the Holy Night: “Behold, I proclaim to you great joy that will come to all the people.” But what does this joy consist of, and what does it mean for our world? What can it mean for our everyday lives beyond Christmas? First of all, the joy against all fear that the angel speaks of does not appease, and it does not sugarcoat the world. Unlike entertainment on all channels, it does not offer a cheap, colorful contrast to the harsh or gloomy reality of our world. The joy of Christmas Eve has a specific reason: Christ, the Saviour of the world, has been born. God takes on human form, enters the world, and seeks to restore it to its original state. This is the decisive reason for the joy of Christmas. God is close to us because he loves us because he knows our needs and our fears. We are with our fear. Whatever it may be, we are not alone. He is with us.
What does it mean when we allow ourselves to be infected by this Christmas joy?
It doesn’t mean that we simply become fearless or that we can cast off fear with a light hand. Nor do we become knights through Christmas – “without fear and reproach”. But if we really accept the Christmas message for ourselves and believe it, then fear loses its paralyzing power and authority over us. Then, we can accept it as a part of our lives but assign it a place after joy. Jesus, whose birth we celebrate today, told his disciples: “In the world you are afraid, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
The message of joy that emanates from the Holy Night also makes us feel “comforting”. It comforts and gives confidence. And that means more than just a pleasant, self-centered inner state. The joy of Christmas changes our relationship with the world: we can turn to people with comfort and confidence and tackle the questions and problems that at first seemed hopeless at first and only caused fear. Christmas means that the initial fear gives way to lasting joy!
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