The songs and images of the Advent and Christmas season stir in many people a longing for peace and good will. But peace is hard to come by these days. Instead, violent world realities incite fear.
How can a fear-wearied world rejoice with songs of hope? How do we keep fear from taking over and destroying our capacity to love and care for each other and our neighbors with open hearts and minds?
The admonition to “fear not” appears often in Advent lectionary readings. Angels materialize at unexpected times to urge Mary, Joseph, and shepherds on a hillside not to be afraid as unfamiliar and fearful things happen in their lives. The “fear nots” of these familiar nativity scenes sing out to us in beloved Christmas carols, and children enact them in annual church Christmas plays. The Advent and Christmas season is a time to consider what we fear and to be aroused by God’s fear not.
The Canticle of Zechariah, a lectionary reading from Luke 1 for the second Sunday of Advent, also sings about the power of fear and the mysteries of God’s call to “be not afraid.” In this ancient story, Zechariah is startled when an angel announces to him that his wife, Elizabeth, is to birth a son in her aging years. His skepticism becomes speechlessness. Zechariah is silent for many weeks, until his and Elizabeth’s child—John the Baptizer—is born and his silence gives way to a fear-not song of freedom and fearless worship. This poem-prayer for the Second Sunday in Advent is based on Zechariah’s song.
The Advent fire grows.
Dawning light intensifies
and we can see.
A “new and glorious morn.”
call out to us across the years.
but new again
touches fear-full silence
with sounds of freedom.
A day-breaking “thrill of hope”
washes in on the shores of
the world’s silent night:
“Blessed be the God of Israel.
God has come to God’s people and set them free.
God has raised up for them a savior. . .
God promised to show mercy to us
and to remember God’s holy covenant.
This was the oath God swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to set us free from our enemies,
free to worship God without fear,
holy and righteous all the days of our lives.”
Sing sacred sound
into our speechlessness, O God.
Carol within us
“In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet
in the way of peace.”
We lift our faces to God’s sunlight.
We open our hearts to God’s song.
Tender mercy shines and sings within us:
And we are,
for a moment, at least,
like backyard mockingbirds,
fierce and fiery,
About Jill Crainshaw
Jill Crainshaw is a PCUSA minister and Blackburn Professor of Worship and Liturgical Theology at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. She is the author of several books on worship and ministry.