Come Thou Long Expected Jesus 1
“Come, thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee…”
Read the third line of the verse again: “From our fears… release us.” Isn’t that a wonderful, honest, frank plea? Wouldn’t we all like to be ‘released’ from our fears?
I am struck by so many parts of the incarnation story as they intersect with Mary. Much like the honest plea of our hymn, Mary “was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” when she heard from the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:29). How lovely that Luke tells the story as it is: that at first Mary does not jump in with both feet. She is perplexed and perhaps, dare we say, afraid?
We know that God chose Mary. She was special, particular. There was something God wanted to do with and in Mary. Some would say she was perfect, free of any human frailty that so plagues us. Yet we see something of Mary’s humanity in this very moment. At the good news greeting from Gabriel, she reacts as many of us would. The NIV puts it that she was “greatly troubled” and “wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”
Now, from the outside in, perhaps most of us would say, “Well, if an angel had just appeared, told me I was favored by God and that He was with me, I would not be troubled about anything!” Easily said, but that is not what happened. When the King of Creation picks you out with a personal telegram, you know something is up. Maybe you are in trouble, maybe not. Either way, whatever certainty you had about how this was going to turn out might be tempered by a sense of foreboding trouble—another word for that would be fear. Good old Gabriel clearly sensed that in Mary.
Take a breath. Of what are you afraid? When I was younger, my fears were a bit different: the boogeyman and ghosts, getting crushed by the offensive line, or being bullied in junior high. As I have grown older, I would like to say I have shed all those fears, but they have merely morphed into different ones: the well-being of my children, wife and parents, financial security, health and world peace. The reality is most of those things of which I am afraid are basically beyond my control. It is interesting that, in many places throughout Scripture, when God shows up, the leading message is, “Do not be afraid.” (Genesis 26:24; Deuteronomy 1:21, 29; John 14:27)
Let it rest within you that even Mary had her difficult moments. Even Mary was troubled when God entered her world. Some see fear as sinful or wrong. The feeling of fear is not, in and of itself, sinful—unless it keeps us from doing what we should do or, more importantly, what God would have us do. When fear melts into cowardice, we can be sure the self has stepped in front of God and that is sin.
I do not imagine Mary had experienced God in this way before and she had every right to be troubled by the moment. Being troubled, being fearful in response to God’s revelation, is part of being human, but none of us wants to live in fear. Mary allowed her fear to turn in to something called wonder. It shifted because Mary chose to let what she was feeling come to the surface and, in the face of her fear, she had faith.
Somewhere along the way in Mary’s retelling of this story, she was bold enough to say, “When the angel showed up, it was downright scary!” Good for her! For today, let the uneasiness, the fears come to the surface and face them. Maybe once you do, rather than see them as the victorious enemy, you can begin to see them as a challenge to overcome. You can begin to wonder how to go from here.
Perhaps, today is a day to face and name your fears. Make a list (Seriously! On a piece of paper or typed on your computer!) and then ask God to help you pluck them one by one, turning fear to wonder so that, by His grace, those fears will subside and His peace will reign within your heart.
A Prayer for Today
Grant that we here before thee may be set free from the fear of vicissitude and the fear of death, may finish what remains before us of our course without dishonor to ourselves or hurt to others, and, when the day comes, may die in peace. Deliver us from fear and favour: from mean hopes and cheap pleasures. Have mercy on each in his deficiency; let him be not cast down, support the stumbling on the way, and give at last rest to the weary. Amen.
(Robert Louis Stevenson, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson: Miscellanies Volume IV, 1896, p.382)