Reading the New Testament Christmas story, you’ll find one instruction that is repeated so many times that it’s hard to ignore.

It’s “Fear not.”

An angel says it to Mary in Luke 1:30. Her betrothed, Joseph, gets the same message from an angel during a dream in Matthew 1:20, and some shepherds were instructed by an angel to “fear not” in Luke 2:10.

There must have been a lot of fear around that made all that reassurance necessary. We could use that angel’s advice right now.

Even in America, the richest and most secure nation in the history, there are times when we seem paralyzed by fear.

The politics of fear dominate discussions about issues like taxes, immigration, gun control and climate change, and opponents dig in on positions that can’t be budged with information.

Terrorism – the use of violence or threat of violence to achieve political ends – is nothing but fear turned into a weapon. Once we are reminded of our vulnerability, it’s hard to appreciate how peaceful life here really is compared to so many places around the world.

Take Syria: Civil war has left more than 9 million Syrians homeless, half of them children, both inside and outside the country. More than 4 million of them are sitting in refugee camps in neighboring countries wondering whether they’ll ever have a home to go back to.

But for the last two months, our political conversation has been dominated by overstated claims about how much danger a few thousand of those refugees would pose to us.

At first it was politicians calling for a halt to Syrian immigration, then it was a ban on anyone who professes to be of the Muslim faith. Now polls show that support for such a ban has support that nears a majority of Americans. It’s what Franklin D. Roosevelt called “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” or “fear itself,” the only thing, he said, that we have to fear.

Christmas is the only religious holiday that is recognized by federal and state governments, and Americans of all religions and no religion can get a day off to celebrate it, particularly its secular traditions of gift giving and getting together with family and friends.

The biblical story of the Virgin Mary and her baby in a manger is usually left to the people who observe it as a religious holiday, but it has a message that could be important even to a diverse society in a secular state.

In the darkest time of the year, when the world is looking more and more hostile, we don’t have to give in.

We can remember what the angel said: Fear not.

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