December 21, 2011 - "And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, 'Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people…" Luke 2:8-10
The message of Spirit is clear and consistent; in the stories of the angel's appearance to the shepherds, to Zechariah (Lk 1:13), to Mary (Lk 1:30) and Joseph (Mt 1:20), it is, "Be not afraid."
We can be tempted to be in fear when life brings us what life brings us.
And fear is not a bad thing, especially when we understand it in the original sense of meaning awe and respect. We fear burning ourselves on a hot stove or falling off a tall building. We respect the power of electricity and of gravity, and have learned to work with them to improve our enjoyment of the physical world.
Similarly, we can work with the power of God to improve our enjoyment of life and living.
Life is filled with joyous possibilities. Some we appreciate and others we don't. "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials" (James 1:2)
Each moment is an opportunity to live in love, to be love, showing compassion for ourselves and all others. This is the path of joy. "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." John 15:11
The shepherds represent the aspects of consciousness that watch over our mental activity, our thoughts and feelings. They were watching "over their flock by night." Night symbolizes darkness of sense consciousness, awareness without inspiration. Yet they were out in the field, open and receptive to the good news of Divine illumination.
The good news being the birth of a special child, "Christ the Lord." "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!'" (Lk 2:12-14)
When we are inspired, we offer praise and give glory to a greater reality than we normally participate in, we recognize and give thanks to our higher power; we consciously invoke an awareness of the infinite, unlimited, eternal existence that we call God. We know the peace that is God's pleasure for us and in us.
The new birth is called "Emmanuel" or "God with us" (Mt 1:23.) It is a conscious awareness of our intimate connection with the Divine. This is not an egocentric glorification of self. It is a selfless experience of union with the ultimate, infinite, unlimited, eternal existence of the absolute good that is God. From here we can "be the change we wish to see in the world." (Ghandi)
The outer world is a reflection of our inner state of awareness. When we are negative we tend to draw to us experiences to reinforce the negativity.
Likewise, when we are happy, loving and joyous we tend to draw to us experiences to support our joy. And, even those inevitable brushes with unwelcome events and people are easier met with compassion. "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." (The Dalai Lama)
May all that you think, say and do, here, now and always, be in joy with compassion for yourself and all of God's creation.
Blessings of peace, joy & love.
The Rev. Matthew E. Long is senior minister at Peace Unity Church and Holistic Center.