The angels in Luke’s gospel spend a lot of time telling people not to be afraid.
Fear not, Zechariah! Fear not, Mary! Fear not, shepherds! And over in Matthew,
Do not be afraid, Joseph! They remind me of a guy I used to work for, who often opened his emails with “Now, don’t panic…” When he did that, I knew I was in for it. I knew there was a but coming, and that the but was the point of the message. And that was only my boss. When an angel of the Lord appears unto you, saying fear not, you know that but is going to be a whopper, because angels don’t appear to people to tell them they forgot the milk at the grocery store.
Hey, Joe, now don’t panic, man, keep it chill, but your fiancée’s pregnant by the Holy Spirit. And look, man, we need you to marry her anyway and raise the baby as if it were your own. You’ll face scorn and rejection, but hey, no worries — everything’s going to be all right.
Of course when an angel of the Lord tells you that everything will turn out all right, you can safely assume that it will, even if God’s standards for “all right” may not always line up perfectly with our own. And the Christmas story is so thoroughly infused with everything’s gonna be all right that we forget to be afraid when the angel appears. We jump ahead to the scene at the manger, the new baby who never cries, the mother who is not at all tired or sore, the stepfather who does not mind at all having been cuckolded by God or being forced to shelter his pregnant wife and newborn son in a barn, the shepherds slack-jawed in contented wonder, the magi safely arrived with their expensive gifts and nattily dressed entourages. We have viewed that scene so many times that we barely give it a second thought. I see it a half-dozen times just driving into town, spread out in neighbors’ yards.