Joint Christmas Message from the Bishops of Clogher 2011
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said “Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news.” Luke 2:8-10
Those words are probably very familiar to you. Perhaps some of them are even more familiar than you may think.
If someone asked you what were the most frequently repeated words in the whole Bible, what would your answer be? Perhaps you would say “Repent and believe” or “Thou shalt not..” or even “ God is love”. In fact the most often repeated words are in that short passage from St Luke’s Gospel.
They were used by God to encourage the Patriarch Abraham when he set out on his mammoth trek from what is now Iraq to Palestine. They were used again to reassure the prophets when God had asked them to bring a very unpopular message to his people. They were used by Jesus himself again and again, and were often on the lips of his apostles. And the angels used them. “Don’t be afraid”
Life can be full of fear. From the moment we emerge from the warm womb into a cold world we are fearful. As children we are afraid of not fitting in with our peers. As young people we are afraid of not having friends. As adolescents we worry whether that special girl or boy likes us as much as we like them. As adults we worry about getting a job, and when we get it we worry about keeping it.
Hard and all as it is to believe, in Ireland at Christmas 2011 people are now afraid that they may not have a roof over their heads this time next year, nor be able to put a meal on the table for their children this time next week. The turnaround in many people’s lives has been so enormous that it has completely overwhelmed them, and the authorities are struggling to cope with the consequences.
We are afraid for our children, for our security and for our country. If you ask any psychologist he will tell you that the mother and father of all of these fears is the fear of death, made more intense by the fear of having lived a life that hasn’t amounted to anything.
And in each of these situations God says “Don’t be afraid”. He has taken care of the greatest of our fears once and for all. And although he cannot solve the problems of Ireland, North or South, overnight, he still offers an alternative to fear. And that alternative is faith; particularly faith expressing itself through love and simplicity of life.
I think we now recognise that we can’t have everything, and that so many of our acquisitions brought more fears but not more happiness. They may even have diminished our relationships with one another and with God.
Let us live by faith and not by fear; faith as a response to the good news which the angel promised. In his birth and in his life Jesus taught us that happiness flows from caring for and loving one another. Don’t be afraid.
+Liam S. MacDaid +John McDowell
• Bishop Liam MacDaid is the Catholic Bishop of Clogher and Bishop John McDowell is the Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher
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