Faith: an opinion piece by David Braye
Burton Cummings is an icon of Canadian rock music, the voice of the legendary Winnipeg-based The Guess Who. The band was in its prime when I attended high school in that city.
Burton Cummings. — Submitted photo
What does Burton Cummings have to do with Christmas, you may be wondering?
Well, The Toronto Star recently carried an article featuring Cummings where he tells the story behind one of his songs, which incidently he noted is his mother’s favourite. The song is “I’m Scared,” a song putting voice to his inner haunting fears. Look it up and listen!
What I found interesting was the inspiration for the song. He notes that it was Christmas time in New York City, a cold and damp night. Walking back to his hotel, his hands were freezing and he ducked into a beautiful church (Cathedral of St. Thomas) to warm them. He commented: “As I sat at the back of the empty church, alone, warming up my hands, I got spooked. I felt something otherworldly, powerful. When I got back to my hotel I wrote the words down. It’s a song about wondering, not being an atheist, but wanting something to hang onto in the here and now.”
Burton Cummings is not alone in being scared, for we are a fear-ridden people. Granted, there are legitimate fears. Psychology Today opines that fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger. If we didn’t feel fear we wouldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats.
Yet we agree that there are fears and phobias that cause pathological paralysis and anxiety. An exhaustive catalogue of these phobias take us from A-Z, from “achluophobia” (fear of darkness) to “zoophobia” (fear of animals).
We all have our fears: fears of the future and the unknown; fears of the “what if” variety; fears that if not immobilized will paralyze any hope of emotional and mental stability. Yes, there is truth in Benjamin Disraeli’s assertion that “Fear makes us feel our humanity,” but by placing our trust in a God of love and grace, we are able to overcome the fears that would destabilize and eventually destroy our well-being.
This is where the message of Christmas comes into focus. The message of Christmas is this: “Do not be afraid.” The Christmas narrative of scripture is replete with this phrase. To Joseph, pledged to be married to Mary, discovering that before they even had intimacy, she was pregnant, came the message from the angel, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
To Mary, a teenager pledged to be married to the aforementioned Joseph, came the announcement that she was to give birth to one whose name would be Jesus and who would “be great and called the Son of the Most High.”
Was Mary scared? You betcha! But the angel’s message to her was this: “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God.” (Luke 1:30).
And how about the shepherds? They were minding their own business, gainfully employed protecting their sheep from marauding predators. Their peaceful evening was shattered when “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them.”
Were they scared? You betcha! In fact, scripture says they were “terrified” — but again, the angel had a message: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11).
Yes, the message of Christmas is certainly, Do not be afraid! It’s a contemporary message for a fear-ridden people.
A message for the “here and now” that we can hang onto.
In fact, it’s the message of the entire scriptures. From Genesis (15:1) to Revelation (2:10), the message of scripture is the message that God is with us and will help us in whatever situation we find ourselves, giving us strength and courage to face the future unafraid.
In fact, the Christ of Christmas says to each of us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).
So thanks, Burton Cummings, for reminding me that there are times when we are scared. But the Christmas message certainly trumps any debilitating fear that may paralyze our lives.
Christmas says, “Do not be afraid.” Instead of fear, we need to put our faith and trust in God.
David Braye is a student of God’s Word. He is a part of the Newfoundland and Labrador diaspora now living in Ontario.