The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’ Luke 2:10-11
“Do not be afraid.” Fear is one of the most debilitating of all emotions. It can leave us almost frozen in our tracks. Our response as human beings is normally to try and escape fear or to confront it. This year in many parts of our world people have been living in the grip of fear. Think of those caught up in the cruel onslaught of militants in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia; or those whose families have been devastated by the spread of Ebola disease in Sierra Leone and Liberia; and others in troubled parts of the world like Eastern Europe who are fearful about their future because of continuing war and conflict. Many have fled the bloodshed, persecution or disease and now find themselves as refugees far from home, sometimes in foreign lands. They are cold, hungry and lacking shelter. It is a sad reflection on our world that many people have been forced violently to flee to safety because of their religion, ethnicity or cultural identity. The plight of Christians in Iraq, Syria and the whole Middle East comes especially to mind at this Christmas time.
As we pray for peace in the world let us remember those who are forced to spend Christmas far from home because of man’s inhumanity to man. We are forever grateful that many Christians and other people of good will do not stand idly by while their brothers and sisters live in fear. Many church and humanitarian organisations reach out to help refugees across the world. Their work is an inspiring reminder of the compassionate love of Jesus for those least fortunate in our world. Let us continue to support their essential and life-saving services. But at the same time we also need to speak up loudly and often for the voiceless thousands who are not allowed to remain in peace and safety in the place they call home.
Sadly, there is fear and need in our own land too. Many parents across Ireland are afraid for their children’s well-being because they lack the necessities for any level of security or comfort in daily life. The plight of the homeless on our streets has been much in our minds in recent weeks. We urge all people of good-will to work together so that the needs of children and the most vulnerable are protected.
As we once again reflect on the Nativity story, let us remember that the infant Jesus and his earthly parents also had to face need, hatred and persecution in Bethlehem and had to flee for the relative safety of Egypt. Yet the simple message of the angel to the shepherds was “Do not be afraid” for this child would be the Saviour of the world. He is called Emmanuel, which being translated means God with us. God with us in our darkest fears and in our brightest joys. God is our hope and our salvation. What a consoling message that is! And what a challenging message too – it calls us all to action and to do what we can to make a difference in relieving the pain and suffering of the world around us.
May the light of the Christ child shine upon you and upon those whom you love this Christmas and always.
With every blessing,
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh