With Fear and Trembling If We Really Understand It

Anunciation (James Christiansen)
“The Anunciation”, James Christiansen

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1: 26-30)

Do not be afraid…it sounds so simple. Just stop, stop being afraid. The truth is that in my humble experience, when someone in a Bible story tells you to not be afraid, you probably should totally rethink where you are and what you are doing. It happens over and over again. Throughout the Bible, time and time again, people are approached by other people, by God, by angels, by incinerated bushes, by mountains engulfed in clouds, maybe even by chariots of fire…you name it. There is the person minding his or her own business and then they hear the fateful words: “Do not be afraid.” (Oh, shoot…I was afraid of this!)

Intellectually, we tell ourselves that we have no reason to be afraid because God is by our side, walking with us, protecting us from harm. But Mary’s not afraid of something coming after her. She’s afraid because the very messenger of God is talking to HER, calling HER name. There’s no getting out of it. She stands there but she can no longer feel her feet beneath her. She might as well be sinking into quicksand. In that moment, her world, her carefully-planned world, her simple betrothed little world, the only world that this young maiden has ever known is falling away. It sounds so simple. The Lord is with you. So, thought Mary, what does THAT mean? I mean, I worship God and all. But what do you do when the Lord actually shows up? Because, see, when the Lord shows up, things change. When the Lord shows up, your life as you know it is gone. But do not be afraid. Do not be afraid even though you no longer know where you are going. Do not be afraid even though nothing makes sense any more. Do not be afraid even though you are giving everything that you know away and you are left with nothing that is your own.

There’s an old hymn that says something like “Be not afraid what ere betide. God will take care of you.” But the most disconcerting thing in one’s life is when God really does show up, not to protect us, not to take care of us, but to call us to follow, to call our name and ask us to come and see and be a part of this whole building of the Kingdom of God thing. But, oh yeah, don’t be afraid. The truth is, this life of faith is not for the faint of heart. Anyone who follows God without at least a respectful modicum of fear and trembling doesn’t really understand it at all. You know, I don’t think God is expecting us to not be afraid. After all, we’re walking into the unknown. We’re dancing with mystery and we don’t even know how it will turn out for us. But, oh the dance! Maybe that’s it. God is not asking us to move forward with blind courage but to dance even though we’re a little apprehensive about what may be. Because you see, that would be faith. Faith is not living without fear; faith is dancing to God (hey, someone should name a blog that!) when you barely know the tune and are petrified that you’ll take the wrong step. But you just follow.

And so the angel stood there not able to breathe. The question hung suspended for the longest moment the world had ever known. Clouds gathered and birds stopped their flight just to hear the words. Will you come with me? Will you follow? Will you give your life to me so that I can give my life to you?

38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.(Luke 1:38)

And God came and the world was never the same.


God, I am sorry I ran from you.  I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge.  For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain.  So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.  (Annie Dillard)


Grace and Peace,