Three Little Words
Edward Schillebeeck, O.P., tells us that the whole message of the Gospel can be summed up in three words: “Be not afraid.” Perhaps, this is also true of the Christmas story. At the very beginning of the Gospel of Luke, the angel tells Mary not to be afraid. When the angels appear to the shepherds, they are told not to be afraid, and so on.
Rachel Naomi Remen recounts the story of her “hero” uncle, a shy and unassuming man, who was also a physician. The story goes like this. It was World War II. Acting on false information, the troop of soldiers, preceding him, forged ahead into what they thought was territory cleared of enemy fire. In a matter of seconds, open enemy fire ensued. The field was covered with wounded and dying soldiers. Inching his way, close to the ground with supplies strapped to his back, Rachel's uncle placed tourniquets, stopped bleeding, took messages on the backs of worn photographs and, in some cases, gave a form of “last rites.”
Later, her uncle returned to his hometown, where he was given a hero's welcome. Rachel, who was in second grade at the time, sat on her uncle's lap and told him how brave she thought he was for doing such a thing. Rachel had surmised that her uncle was not afraid of anything. Gently, her uncle responded by telling her how frightened he was. He went on to explain that being brave does not mean being unafraid. It often means being afraid but going ahead anyway.*
It would appear that, with each new Christmas, we receive more of Christmas. Giving us a different view of the experience of Advent and Christmas, Paul Tillich suggests that what we wait for is already acting within us ahead of time, giving us its strength and power. Maybe, this is why some people prefer Advent to Christmas. In the face of this, one could ask, “What is it that I am waiting for?” In a letter to a friend, Jesuit Karl Rahner tells his friend to have the courage to be alone. Perhaps it is not courage we need so much but a simple desire and decision. In being alone, we find that we are not alone. We may also discover what it is that we are waiting for.
As we rush about writing Christmas cards and thinking of a gift for this or that person, there is a strong vivifying sense that indeed some Spirit has taken a hold of us. We also become aware of how much others mean to us. For a brief time, this “God With Us”(another set of three words) breaks through the humdrum of our daily routine and reveals to us not only a different dimension of our human existence, but our own innate goodness and that of others.
*Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom . (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996) p.49.
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.