Jingle Bell Angel

angelAt staff meeting this week Mary Hiteman was telling us about “Dress-Up-Like-a-Biblical-Character-Day” at our preschool. 

All the children had come in costume, some more imaginative than others.  For example: there were a dozen or so “Marys,” lots of shepherds, four Noahs, and one Jonah (who carried a small, blue whale).  The most imaginative costume, according to Mary, was the one worn by Menley Blanchard, who came to preschool holding hands with her mother Susan, each of them wearing half of a large, red “C.”  When Mary seemed puzzled Susan and Menley stepped apart and Susan said, “Get it?  The parting of the Red ‘C’!”

But my favorite was the little boy who came in an Angels’ baseball uniform.  Instead of the Los Angeles Angels, however, this little fellow was one of “God’s Angels,” Gabriel to be precise, as the name on the back of the uniform clearly indicated.  He was wearing wings and a baseball cap with a halo attached, but on the front of his jersey were the words “Do not fear!” (which is what angels always say), and on each of his shoes there was a small jingle bell, to let others know he was coming, so that they would not be afraid. 

I love that, and I think some of those biblical characters would have loved it, too.  Zechariah, for example, who was “terrified” when Gabriel surprised him in the temple.  Mary, for example, who must have been startled almost out of her wits when Gabriel dropped in to tell her she was going to have a baby.  Those shepherds, for example, who were “sore afraid” when an angel sneaked up on them while they were watching their flocks by night. 

There is a reason angels always say “Do not fear.”  It’s not only because they show up suddenly and unexpectedly, often in the middle of the night.  It’s because they know that fear is the thing most likely to keep us from doing the will of God.  I’m going to try to remember that the next time I hear jingle bells.  I’m going to try to think not so much of Santa and his reindeer as Gabriel in a baseball cap reminding us not to be afraid.  Because if God’s will is ever going to be done on earth as it is in heaven…

…it’s going to require some fearlessness.

See Paris First

istock_000002390324xsmallAs a follow up to my Ash Wednesday sermon about overcoming our fear of death by denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus (“volunteering to die” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would put it), let me offer this wonderful poem by M. Truman Cooper, first shared with me by my dear friend Judy Skeen.  It’s called “See Paris First,” and it’s about knowing what it is you fear and facing up to it–approaching it squarely and head on–so that you don’t have to spend the rest of your life being afraid.  The poem itself is simple and spare.  It may take more than one reading to appreciate it, but I assure you…it’s worth it.


Suppose what you fear
could be trapped
and held in Paris.

Then you would have the courage
to go everywhere in the world.
All the directions of the compass
open to you,
except
the degrees east or west
of true north
that lead to Paris.

Still, you wouldn’t dare
to put your toes smack dab
on the city limit line.

And you’re not really willing to stand on a mountainside
miles away
and watch the Paris lights
come up at night.
And just to be on the safe side, you decide to stay completely
out of France.

But then danger
seems too close
even to those boundaries,
and you feel the timid part of you
covering the whole globe again.

You need the kind of friend
who learns your secret and says,
“See Paris first.”

—M. Truman Cooper