It is there in the Christmas story, but sometimes we overlook it: "Fear not." That's what the angels say to the shepherds when they announce the birth of Jesus. It is the same statement which often comes at important times in the life of Jesus.

"Fear not" is what the angel Gabriel says to Mary when he announces that she will give birth to the Messiah. "Fear not" is what Jesus says to the disciples in the boat when a storm scares them. "Fear not" is what the angel says to the women who discover the empty tomb at Easter. "Fear not" (often translated "Peace be with you") is what the risen Christ says to the disciples when he appears to them after Easter.

What is all of this talk about fear? Why all of the assurances to "Fear not"? It is, I believe, because fear is the opposite of faith. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt is often the doorway to faith. But fear is the opposite of faith.

When we get fearful, we lose our faith in ourselves, in our world, and in God. When churches get fearful, they lose their ability to faithfully risk and serve and stretch out in mission to others. When a society gets fearful, our anxiety keeps us from protecting freedom, extending hospitality to strangers, and maintaining civility.

Fear gets in our way. Fear makes us ill and prevents us from accepting healing. Fear produces hatred and prejudice and interrupts our ability to offer and receive forgiveness. Fear keeps us from loving. Fear gets in the way of our giving. Fear cripples our very living. Fear is the opposite of faith.

We live in a world that is full of fear. To us, again, comes the message of Christmas, "Fear not. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11).

May you rejoice in faith, and not live in fear. Merry Christmas.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner