I had an idea for a musical piece, incorporating this angelic encouragement (“Do not be afraid.”) from the annunciation to Mary:
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:26-33)
And something tickled at the back of my mind. I turned to the other annunciation, the one to Joseph, and I found another “ne timeas.”
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. (Matthew 1:18b-24)
I had never before connected the “Ne timeas” of the latter days of Advent with the earlier warnings of the season:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21:25-28)
Fear is in the shadow of Advent. We don’t dwell too much on the fear of Joseph and Mary. The angel is quick to encourage them. They each move on with their faithful witness: Joseph to his wordless acceptance, and Mary to her conversation and ultimate “fiat.”
Like Gabriel to his parents, Jesus counsels the disciples by giving some warning of trouble ahead. Those who are unprepared, those who do not heed the warning signs, these folks will be struck with fright. Believers, be prepared, is the motto–fitting for these early days of Advent.
Fear is a tough obstacle to overcome. As a younger person, I was often overcome with fear. I was very shy as a pre-teen and into adolescence. I don’t know where that came from. As a young child, I was more outgoing. I remember a clear experience at age four of racing my bike with Susie Wood around her bank of townhomes in the subdivision: my first memory of having a girlfriend. As I grew older, I found myself far less sure of myself around the opposite sex. High school was a torture at times. Fear had taken over.
I believe that deep in my mind, I wanted to be more fearless. As a little boy, I admired comic book superheroes. It wasn’t until I was into my twenties that I found a strong measure of liberation from fear. And even then, it took years to rise up from the shadows.
So when I hear “ne timeas,” I pay attention. I try to pass on that message to my daughter and to other children I know. I encourage my friends when I can. One of my favorite passages from the Gospels:
While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” (Mark 5:35-36)
Early Advent confronts us with the forces of the universe that are far beyond our control, namely God’s struggle against evil and the ultimate victory of divine forces. In our lives also, we are confronted, as were Mary and Joseph, with the terrible pain of relationships, and the unbelievable surprises of life. In all of this, we listen in on the message, “ne timeas,” and we are urged to have faith.
God grant it be so.