The Incarnation is the climax of God’s story. But what does this story tell us? The early church passionately debated its significance: their answer takes up a large part of the Nicene Creed. John’s Gospel is an often explicit meditation on the Incarnation, and its first chapter, which we often hear as midnight strikes on Christmas Eve, famously sets out John’s explanation.
These are great and profound answers, and there are more. But I think the significance of the Incarnation, and perhaps the whole of God’s story, can be summed up in the four-word refrain of the angels in the Christmas gospel.
It’s what the angel says to Zechariah, as he is overwhelmed in God’s temple by the presence of God’s messenger: do not be afraid.
It’s what the angel says to Mary, as she contemplates unexpected motherhood and probable disgrace: do not be afraid.
It’s what the angel says to Joseph, as he looks to avoid social embarrassment and messy relationships: do not be afraid.
It’s what the angel says to the shepherds, as these outsiders are overcome by being placed at the heart of God’s new beginning: do not be afraid.
2018 has felt like a fearful year, for our world, for our nation, for our city and, at times I expect, for ourselves and our loved ones. So let us hush our noise, and hear again the message of the angels. Let us go to the place where those fears meet their answer, where God’s unconditional love, weak and foolish, awaits. Let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, and the babe lying in the manger.