“Fear Not”: Christmas Lesson for our Public Discourse
By Scott Atnip
I am fortunate to have spent my entire life in the United Methodist church. My parents had us in church just about every Sunday morning, and as an adult, I have been privileged to work in, with and through the church from the local to global church levels. So, I know that when Advent rolls around every year preparing for the coming of the Christ child, we get to spend a month talking about the themes of “Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.”
The Advent themes seem especially relevant this year as our public discourse has been consumed with fear. Fear is not a Christian value. In fact, scripture calls us time and time again to not be afraid. In the Christmas story alone, an angel tells Joseph “Do not be afraid” and Shepherds are told to “Fear not” despite their life circumstances at the time being challenging.
Our public discourse has been focused for months, if not years, on fear of “the other.” Fear of people who look, believe, act or worship differently than we do. This is particularly true in our response to Syrian refugees and our Muslim brothers and sisters following the tragedies in Paris and San Bernadino. A public official in Texas recently said that the optimal number of Syrian Refugees to allow in Texas would be zero in order to minimize risk. But as Christians, is our goal to totally eliminate risk? And if so, should we all stay in the comforts of our own homes this holiday season?
One of the core messages of the Christmas story is that God sent the Christ child to earth in an unexpected way. The Messiah was brought into the world by way of an unwed mother in a manger in what, at best, could be called a working class family. Following the birth story, the Holy Family became refugees themselves, fleeing violence to run and hide in Egypt.
As Jesus grew older, he did not take the safe route, but instead chose to associate with people the world might view as unsavory (prostitutes, lepers, and tax collectors, for example). He did not hide in fear, but rather challenged the status quo and those who had the power to do him earthly harm.
If we want our communities to follow the example of Christ, and if we really want to keep “Christ in Christmas,” then we will lay aside our fears and embrace living in a world of hope, peace, joy and love. Using the life of Jesus as our model, we will enter the hard places, engage with those the rest of the world may view as unsavory and confront the world’s challenges with hope instead of distrust, love instead of hate, joy instead of sorrow, and peace instead of fear.
So, in 2016, may our New Year’s Resolution be to leave fear of “the other” behind in 2015 and strive to be Christmas people all year-round, focused on living out hope, peace, joy and love in our daily lives and in our public discourse.
*Scott D. Atnip, Texas Annual Conference, is a board director for Global Ministries.