[Those who fear the Lord] are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
Psalm 112:7 8
My church celebrates Christmas in July, always on the second Sunday of the month. It’s a reminder that the Christ comes among us when we aren’t ready and aren’t expecting Him. It’s a chance to sing the beloved carols and pass the light of Christ through the congregation once more—not in the deep darkness of midwinter, but on a sunny summer morning. It’s also an excuse for us to bring bags of children’s underwear and socks to the creche for Jesus, in his incarnation as the most vulnerable among us, the children. Later in the summer or early fall, our priest visits the local elementary schools with these gifts; the schools stock and distribute them as they see the need. And they do see it; we are a downtown church in one of the poorer neighborhoods of the city.
We depart from the lectionary on this Sunday, hearing instead the Christmas readings. I could probably quote most of Luke 2 from memory, but the story was new again this morning. My priest referred to the angels’ greeting: Fear not. Notice, she said, the angels didn’t say there was nothing to be afraid of. Just, Fear not.
I thought of other places in Scripture when people were told not to be afraid. The judge Gideon came to mind, threshing wheat secretly for fear of the enemy when he was told to take courage and deliver his people. There was reason to fear, but the command overrode reason.
This is a good message for me, two days before my twice-a-year checkup for the dangerous cancer, the one that gave me about a 50-50 chance of being alive in five years. (My gynecologic oncologist says the stats are wrong, but still, that’s what a woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer will read on the Internet.) I am four years out from the end of my chemo regimen without a recurrence. Yet. I feel fine, but I’ve learned that’s no guarantee.
I tell myself I’ve gotten better about being so scared by these check-ups. I used to call as soon as the office might reasonably be expected to have blood test results. There is no test for ovarian cancer, but there is a blood marker, the CA125. Not every woman is sensitive to this marker, but I am. So to call ahead of my appointment to hear that my CA125 is at 12 (under 30 is deemed “normal”) was just a way to remove pressure. But I didn’t call after the blood draw last week. I am waiting until Tuesday. And I flatter myself that I am not acting crazy in the meantime.
Fear not, the angels said, because there’s great joy in this child born to us. In the other birth story, Matthew calls him Emmanuel, God with us. I expect a good report this week; regardless of the test results, however, God is with me, and the proper response is not to fear.