I started this blog post last Wednesday, with every intent of trying to keep up some sort of blogging schedule during my last week of classes, but I failed miserably. Thankfully, there are some similarities in the Gospel lessons for Propers 8 and 9 in Year C, so I can use the title and two sentences.
Last Sunday’s gospel lesson marks the turning point in Luke’s story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Having been transfigured on the mountain, Jesus is now on a downhill journey to the cross. As he prepared for the long, arduous journey to Jerusalem, Jesus sent messengers ahead of him to prepare the way. In Greek, they are sent (apostolos) as messengers (angelos). They are sent as angels.
In the New Testament, the work of the angels is to speak on behalf of God. In Luke, they’ve been quite busy: announcing the birth of John the Baptist, declaring a pregnancy to the Virgin Mary, and announcing to the Shepherds good news of great joy, the birth of a Savior, Christ the Lord. Now it is the job of the disciples to take on the role of the bearers of good news.
This week, we again hear the story of Jesus sending people on ahead of him. This time, Luke tells us that it is “70 others” (heteros), or perhaps more literally, another 70 [messengers]. As Jesus continued his journey to the cross, he sent messengers (angelos) to every town he planned to visit. They went ahead, prepared a place, and began to lay the ground work for his arrival. They were sent to share the good news that the Kingdom of God had come near, but when they arrived at their destinations, they realized that their task was even greater than that. They were able to share not only in his proclamation, but in his ministry of healing and exorcism. They were sent as messengers, but arrived as angels through the power of the Spirit.
I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks that 2014 has felt like a very dark year. With ISIS in the Middle East, fraying race relations in the US, economic worries in Europe, and Russia flexing its muscles while starving its people and *allegedly* shooting down international passenger jets by mistake, this year’s news cycle has been full of some pretty heavy stuff. One can’t help but feel like things just aren’t the way they are supposed to be, and as a parent of two small children, I find I have to work to keep from falling into a cycle of anxiety about what sort of world they’ll grow up in.
As the final hours of Advent wind down, I find myself longing, deeply longing, for the annual rehearsal of the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel. I need to hear of Mary and Joseph travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem. I seek the comfort of those familiar words, “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” I’m especially waiting to hear the proclamation of the angel choir to the shepherds tending their flocks by night. Specifically, I’m hoping that their words “Do not be afraid” will find their way into the recess of my heart.
I don’t think I’m alone in this.
There is something comforting about the admonition of the angels to not fear. They aren’t speaking to me directly, and yet, I think those words were uttered once and for all time. Fear Not, for God’s plan for salvation is bigger than the Emperor Augustus, bigger than the Pax Romana, bigger than AIDS or cancer, bigger than ISIS or Bashir, bigger than any of the fears of this world. Fear Not, for God’s plan is good news of mega joy for all people. Fear not, for God is in control.
In a world full of violence, anger, pettiness and greed, it feels good to remember that God’s plan for salvation is at work and we need no fear.