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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Today’s Reading | Luke 1:57–66  

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. (NRSV)

“The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” You find illustrations of this principle everywhere. Someone achieves, displays a talent, is somehow special or gifted or “touched by the hand of God,” and people freak out. They start looking for some way to cut them down to size. And we see it here: miraculous doings around the birth of John the Baptist, with the result that “Fear came over all their neighbors.”

Now, the word fear has several connotations in the Bible, of course, including “respect” and “awe,” which would be appropriate reactions here. But when we look at how people tend to treat anyone who is set apart as uniquely gifted, it’s pretty reasonable to think that the traditional meaning of fear might apply.

What is it about special people that we find so scary, to the point of almost being an existential threat? Perhaps it’s because we are, at heart, aware of our mutual dependence. The fact that human beings need each other is both a validation (“I’m needed!”) and a comfort (“I’m not alone!”); and we seek equality of status as a means of feeling protected by a society that needs us. If our status slips too low, if we get old or sick or both, well, we might get set adrift on an ice floe to be food for the polar bears. So we constantly remind the special ones, “Hey, you need us. You’re not so great.” And it all comes from fear.

The thing is, lowered expectations never help anyone get anywhere. There are people who set the bar for us all, who challenge us to raise ourselves to another level. Maybe we don’t meet or exceed those challenges, but without them we never rise above where we are. Because the truth is, God’s hand is on us all, and the challenge is always to use our gifts to the utmost.

Lord, you constantly challenge us to raise ourselves. Encourage us to rise to this challenge and not yield to the petty temptation that leads us to knock others down. Help us to be of good courage and not give in to our fears. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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