Do Not Be Afraid
Gabriel must have been an imposing presence. The first two people he appeared to in Scripture, the Old Testament Prophet Daniel and John the Baptist’s father Zechariah, were left mute by their encounter. Apparently people had a hard time finding words in the presence of this imposing angelic being.
His heavenly errand took him not to the centers of power, fame, and fortune, but to a backwater town named Nazareth, a nothing town located halfway between two has been cities, primarily inhabited by Roman soldiers and other unsavory types. A town that good Jews considered to be inhabited by mongrels. Half-breeds. Good for nothings. Nathanial said it best when he exclaimed, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
And Mary wasn’t much to look at. Given the customs of the time, most consider Mary to have been somewhere between 12 & 14 years old at the time of this encounter. She was in her mid-teens at best. As a female, she was uneducated. She wasn’t clean, classy, and refined. She expected her life to go something like this: marry a poor man (her plan was Joseph, a carpenter), give birth to many poor children, never travel farther than a few miles from her humble home, and then die like thousands of other no-name, poor peasant girls from nothing towns in the middle of nowhere.
And suddenly this magnificent heavenly being is standing face to face with a common poor peasant girl with a message … do not be afraid. When I read those words they leap off the page at me. “Do not be afraid!” We all know fear. We fear change. We fear the future. We fear the uncontrollable. We have bank accounts and insurance policies that let us fall asleep at night because we’re afraid. What if I lose my job? What if my spouse decides he no longer loves me? She no longer loves me? What if something bad happens to one of my kids? What if we have a fire? What if we’re in an accident? What if I fail? What if. What if. What if. We try not to think about them, dwell on them, but our minds are filled with “what ifs.” I wonder if Mary, 32 years later, standing at the foot of the cross on which her now-grown son hung dying, recalled this moment with Gabriel. Mary, do not be afraid. The trajectory of your life is about to change forever. Mary, do not be afraid. This day, when the promise of a son who would be God himself in the flesh … Her son, the one before whom every knee would one day bow. Her son, master of an eternal kingdom. Her son, God in the flesh.
Sure, she’d planned to have kids. She knew she would one day be pregnant … probably several times over the next several years. But now? How? She’d never been with a man. What would Joseph say? Would he keep her, or would he toss her out on the street, assuming she had acted as a whore? What was happening? What did it all mean? Mary, do not be afraid.
Tonight, I’m glad Gabriel’s journey took him beyond cultural centers, and wealthier, more powerful, more well educated people. I’m glad Gabriel’s journey took him to a town full of mongrels, poor nobodies whose names would never even be known so that they could be forgotten. I’m glad Gabriel’s journey took him to the doorstep of a poor teenage girl named Mary. It gives me hope. Hope to realize that God doesn’t force himself on those who think they do not need him. Hope that God’s saving grace comes like a breath of fresh air, like a stream of cool water, to those who are dying, to those who have lost hope, to those who didn’t have any hope to begin with. And I’m glad that Gabriel’s message began with these words, “Do not be afraid. God is here.”