The Christmas season inspires a great many feelings in each of our hearts.
For the vast majority of us, fear is not one of them. It is of particular interest then that in several portions of the Christmas narrative, angels are issuing the encouragement “Do not be afraid.” As a matter of fact, almost every time an angel appears in the Christmas story, this is part of their message.
This comes as no surprise to those here at First Baptist Church as we have been focusing on this thread in our current sermon series, "Fear Not." Angels make announcements to Zechariah, Joseph, Mary and the shepherds. What is of particular interest to me is the angels don’t stop by telling these fine folks not to be afraid. They provide them with something with which to replace their fear.
Every time I read these passages, I can’t help but wonder what was the source of their fear. Certainly, having a heavenly being show up out of nowhere was itself terrifying. Throughout the Bible, angels are more commonly represented as warriors rather than princesses, which I’m sure played into the emotions of the moment.
I don’t know that the angels were particularly concerned about alleviating the fear of their presence, though. Actually, I think the encouragement to fear not has nothing to do with the present circumstances of those receiving the message and instead has everything to do with the promise and power of God’s presence with and for them.
Zechariah is visited by an angel as he is serving as a priest in the temple in Jerusalem. In Luke 1:13, we see the announcement. The angel says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayer has been heard.” The angel then explains God is not only going to answer Zechariah’s personal prayer but also the prayers of all the people.
Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, have endured a lifetime of shame and difficulty, and the people of Israel have endured 400-plus years of struggle, but God has heard their prayers and is preparing to provide them with salvation.
Joseph gets off easy and is visited in a dream. In Matthew 1:20, the angel says, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.” To put it in more applicable terms, the angel encourages him not to be afraid to proceed with the plan God has for him.
Joseph is struggling with balancing social expectations, trying to do right personally, and circumstances that are beyond his control. The angel assures Joseph that God is in fact working in the world and that Joseph has a part to play in God’s plan to bring about salvation.
Mary is the most interesting instance. The angel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.” He goes on to explain how Mary, a virgin, would give birth to “the son of the most high.” This son would fulfill God’s promises to his people and would build a kingdom that wouldn’t end. Through Mary’s faith and faithful action, God would bring his son into the world, demonstrating his favor to her and through her.
Luke 2 provides what is arguably the most popular of the angelic appearances. In Luke 2:10, an angel appears to shepherds in the darkness of night and says, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
He explains the savior has been born to them and provides instructions on how to find him. The shepherds head to town to check it out, and after finding everything as advertised, they tell everyone they can about what had happened.
What sticks out to me about each of these instances is the call to fear not is followed by faithful action. These aren’t simply empty words. Telling someone to not be afraid is only of worth if we can replace the fear with something favorable.
Christmas reminds us we have been provided with a solid foundation for faith through the baby in the manger, Jesus. We are reminded that though life be difficult and uncertain, God is with us. We can trust that even when it seems God is silent, he hears us and help is on the way.
We can take comfort that God has a plan and a purpose for our lives, even in our struggles. We can know with certainty that God’s favor is available to us through faith in his son. We can know all of this because we’ve been provided good news of great joy for all people: Christ has come for commoners and kings alike. Let us put our faith in him and heed the angelic encouragement and fear not.
The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected].