A Christmas carol stuck with me after I heard it on the radio a couple of years ago. It was a contemporary setting of the British "Coventry Carol." The carol itself, set in a minor key, is one I find beautiful.
But this particular orchestration was quite unmelodic and eerie, as if from a science fiction film. Against the backdrop of that unusual accompaniment, two very plaintive sopranos sang together.
Somehow, the setting of the carol got me to considering the story of Jesus' birth. Probably, most people don't think of the story as frightening or disturbing. But how different things might have seemed to the people who actually lived through what the Gospels of Matthew and Luke recount.
*Zacharias dreams that his aging, barren wife Elisabeth will be having a baby (John the Baptist).
*Mary is grappling with the idea that her pregnancy will result in the birth of a Saviour.
*Mary's husband, Joseph, is trying to deal with the fact that his wife-to-be is apparently carrying a child that isn't his.
*Joseph and Mary have to travel to Bethlehem to comply with the Roman census - probably not an easy trip to make during your third trimester.
*The best place they can find for Mary to give birth is a manger. That's not too encouraging.
*Then the king has all the baby boys in the area who are under the age of two killed, because he doesn't want the Saviour to live.
Clearly, the birth of Jesus - while tremendously full of promise - may have presented a lot of uncertainty and fear for the major players at the time. But at every point, angels reassured all these participants, helping them to fulfill their roles in history.
What a comforting Christmas message: no matter how uncertain, stressed, or even fearful of the unknown you may be, God's angels can calm your fears, today and now.
Not little white things with wings. Consider the concept of angels as "God's thoughts passing to man; spiritual intuitions, pure and perfect; the inspiration of goodness, purity, and immortality, counteracting all evil, sensuality, and mortality." That's from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy (pg. 581).
Heeding "God's thoughts," you and I can do more than just get through a difficult experience; we can actually make permanent progress in whatever areas of our lives need improvement. This is celebrating the Christmas message.
About 10 years ago, I was failing in a challenging academic program - one made all the tougher because the subject matter was very new to me, and because the classes weren't in my first language. Without great improvement in my grades, it was obvious I was going to fail and would have to leave the program.
I began to pray as never before. I took a half-hour before each class to perceive that God was the power that was over me and over the whole class. Since God is both omnipotent and totally good, I knew that I could trust God's will for my career, and that He would use me for His glory. I listened for God's angels to let me know how to study better.
My marks improved quite a bit - but not enough. And I had to leave the program.
End of story? Not quite. I had four months before I could return to other studies. And I ended up using those months to get started in a profession that I had been interested in for a long time. I'd never thought it feasible for me, since I didn't think it would pay my university debts. But it all worked out!
Through God's gracious help, that same work continues to satisfy me deeply to this day. I use my skills more than I could in any other line of work. All my needs have been met, including the paying of my debts.
God's thoughts of comfort and hope eliminate fear as effectively today as they did on that first Christmas. It doesn't matter if you hate your work, are sick, or have any other kind of problem; what looks terrible right now can become an opportunity for salvation. If you listen for the angels, their peace will descend on you, and you will feel their quieting, practical, "fear not" kind of healing guidance.
Just be still and listen.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society