“Don’t be afraid.”
That’s how the Christmas story starts in Scripture. Twice, in fact. First, the angel shows up to Zechariah (telling him about his future son, John) and says, “dude, chill.”
Then the angel shows up to Mary and says the same thing (well, probably not the “dude” part).
Is it just the being-startled-by-an-angel part that precipitated that calming word? Seems to me it was so much more than that. The messenger wasn’t only saying, “Hey, I realize I’m a strange sight, and I’ve just materialized in front of you in a way that is likely startling.” The angel was, I believe, defining a path. The angel was speaking words that would need to be remembered over and over as the arrival of the Christ-child would completely up-end the world of those intimately involved in his birth.
You see it coming, right? You and I, my youth working friend, are intimately involved in the arrival of the Christ. I mean, sure, we’re not physically there. But this is our story! Since we get to be children of God, Jesus is both our brother and our savior. Jesus IS OUR STORY.
So the “don’t be afraid” should come to us too.
You might be thinking, “Afraid? What do I have to be afraid of?” Well, my contention would be that if you don’t have a sense of what you should be afraid of, you might not be fully living into the upside-down, kingdom-rearranging, first-shall-be-last, love-your-neighbor reality of what Jesus brought (and continues to bring).
The truth: you have plenty to be afraid of. But be not afraid.
This is one of those wonderful (and sometimes annoying, if we’re honest) paradoxes the Bible leaves us with:
Fear God… Who loves you unconditionally and tenderly.
God is all powerful and all loving… But seems to regularly not intervene in human suffering.
We’re in this world and are called to engage this world… But, ultimately, we’re not of this world.
The creator of the universe… Often speaks in a still, small voice.
You have plenty to be afraid of… But don’t be afraid.
Let’s be honest: working with teenagers, no matter how much you love them and are called to this ministry, is cause for fear. They’re a messy lot. The work is never done. The needs are never fully met. The demands and expectations of youth ministry pull in every direction, often in opposition with one another. If you live into this calling, sooner or later, you’ll get hurt; you’ll get ignored; you’ll be misunderstood; you’ll be blamed; you’ll be misrepresented; and you’ll screw up.
But, be not afraid.
For unto us a child is born. And “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
We love you. During this busy Christmas season in youth ministry, we pray that you catch a glimpse of the One, the Savior, God among us, Emmanuel.
Marko, for all of us at Youth Specialties