Do Not Be Afraid
The time and culture of Jesus’ birth was not unlike the world in which we live today. For that matter, it was just like any generation or era in history. The specific people, land and culture to which Jesus came was a world permeated with fear at almost every level. The Jews were an occupied people. They suffered under grinding poverty and heavy taxation. There was a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Life expectancy, particularly among the poor, is estimated to have been in the mid-30s to early-40s. Fear is a part of what it means to be human. It’s a common and normal emotional reaction.
• We have fears that we will live so long that our money will expire before we do.
• We have fears that we will die and be unable to take care of our family.
• We have fears that we will be unemployed and our family will suffer.
• We have fears that we, or someone we love, will be a victim of crime.
• We fear this world, with its hatred and terrorism, with its warfare and violence.
• We fear diseases—we fear the announcement of a terminal disease in our lives and that of our loved ones.
• We fear that those we love will not love us in return.
• We fear getting old and lonely.
• We fear the dark places of this world—and there are many of them.
• And of course we fear death—the final enemy.
As Luke begins the story of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus we are told not to be afraid. Do Not Be Afraid begins as a comforting message before Jesus’ birth and continues with the events surrounding his birth. As Matthew records, the Gospels end with an angel saying to the women at the tomb, after Jesus was raised, Do Not Be Afraid…he is not here, he is risen (Matthew 28:5-6, my emphasis).
In Luke 1:13 Zechariah, who would become the father of John the Baptist, is told not to be afraid. In effect the angel said: “You and your wife Elizabeth are past it—you are old, but so were Abraham and Sarah. Even though you are humanly incapable of birthing a child, by his grace, God will give you a child. Do Not Be Afraid. Nothing is impossible with God.”
In Luke 1:30 Mary, a young teenage girl, one of the most unlikely candidates to be the mother of the Son of God, is told not to be afraid. In effect the angel said: “Mary—you have found favor with God. God is giving you his grace in the midst of your fear. He is changing your life forever. He is rearranging your priorities, so that new life will miraculously be given to you. Do Not Be Afraid. Nothing is impossible with God.”
In Luke 2:10 the shepherds were told not to be afraid, as they watched a staggering display of the glory of God. In Luke 2:14 we read that a great company of the heavenly host sang,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
In effect, the angel said to the shepherds: “I’m bringing you incredible news! Your lives are going to be changed, so Do Not Be Afraid. No one would ever think that you deserve to hear this news, and no one would ever imagine that you deserve exclusive, front row, VIP tickets to this heavenly choir singing about this earthshaking event of Jesus’ birth—but that’s the way God has chosen to orchestrate all of this. You don’t deserve it, and that’s just the point. God is giving you his peace, and his favor—his grace—rests on you. It’s all completely undeserved.”
Why did God choose to make this announcement to these shepherds? Shepherds were among the lowest of the low in that society and culture. Because they continuously moved their sheep and therefore lived for months at a time apart from any human contact, with no supervision, shepherds were often accused of stealing. Religious Jews didn’t buy milk, wool or sheep directly from shepherds because they assumed it could be stolen property. Shepherds were not allowed, by Jewish law, to hold a judicial office or to give testimony in a court of law. Society at that time felt that shepherds could not be trusted.
Shepherds at that time ere viewed omewhat like our society might view a homeless person—or an illegal alien, felon or ex-convict. Shepherds were the lowest of the low and the poorest of the poor. Needless to say, no one would have thought that the very first people (outside of Joseph and Mary) who would receive the announcement of the birth of Jesus would be shepherds. How did they deserve such an honor? Well, of course they didn’t. And that’s just the point.
The message to Zechariah, Mary and the shepherds was Do Not Be Afraid. Do Not Be Afraid is a part of the central proclamation of the birth of Jesus, because the birth of Jesus changed everything. The birth of Jesus (and his life, teachings, death and resurrection) turned society and religion upside down. So in the context of the massive upheaval that Jesus’ birth introduced, the message was Do Not Be Afraid.
And that’s still the message for you and me today. Christmas is a reminder that God made peace for us by making waves in the world into which he was born. God favors us with his peace, but Christmas reminds us that his peace disturbs our culture’s status quo. The birth of Jesus changes everything! Christmas is a symbol of our lives being turned upside down, so that they can be right-side-up.
Births change lives, don’t they? When a couple is first married, they typically begin their married lives alone, without a child. If and when they are blessed to be able to bring a child into their home, they often say “what did we do with our time and our lives before this child? What were our interests? What did we think about and talk about?”
A birth has a way of completely re-orienting, re-ordering and transforming our lives. Births signify an upheaval of the status quo. But even though Jesus’ birth is a life-changing event for us, we are told not to be afraid. We are told not to be afraid because Jesus will change our lives for the better—forever—he will take us from this earthly world of fear and frustration to God’s heavenly eternity of grace and peace.
So, Do Not Be Afraid, for, as the shepherds were told in Luke 2:11:
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Do Not Be Afraid.
Jesus was born so that we might be spiritually reborn. Because of him our lives can be completely transformed. This birth we celebrate was the time when heaven touched our earth in the person of Jesus—the Savior—the healer.
Do Not Be Afraid.
Christmas means that in one bold cosmic stroke, one breathtaking act of love, God blessed this earth with his presence. In the incredible miracle of the incarnation, God in the person of Jesus becoming one of us, God brought his heaven and his earth together, welding them together in the person of Jesus.
Do Not Be Afraid.
God has determined not to remain safe and secure in the heavens, but to descend to his creation, out of his love, becoming a human being. God is stepping out of his own safety and security to bring us his rest and peace.
Do Not Be Afraid.
God has come, in the person of Jesus, to exalt you. God has come not so that we might serve him, but so that he might serve us. In the person of Jesus God has come, becoming poor so that we might become rich.
Do Not Be Afraid.
In the person of Jesus God has come to you, filling this world with his love, so that humans might see and know of his love, so that in Jesus his love might be fully revealed and known and so that humans in turn might be drawn to him.
Do Not Be Afraid.
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born…” —Luke 2:11
Today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Right now!
Do Not Be Afraid. Help is not just on the way in the person of Jesus—help is here. Jesus has arrived. He is here —NOW. He will never leave. As Jesus told his disciples, in the last words recorded in the Gospel of Matthew,
“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”—Matthew 28:20
Do Not Be Afraid of your earthly circumstances. God’s grace, exemplified by the birth of Jesus is not simply a one-time heavenly bail-out. God’s grace is not merely a temporary spiritual loan to help us get on our feet. The birth of Jesus is not a one-time stimulus package.
Jesus brought an entirely different kind of spiritual economy—an economy based on God’s grace. We have found favor with God. God’s peace rests on us, because of his everlasting love. We have not earned his favor. We do not deserve his grace. God’s favor is the ultimate no-strings-attached gift—a gift which, like any other, must be accepted and opened—a gift which may also, by our choice, be rejected and ignored.
Do Not Be Afraid if the world around you is crumbling.
Do Not Be Afraid because of consumerism and greed.
Do Not Be Afraid even though you face uncertain human conditions—having to do with your welfare, your health, and your family and loved ones.
Do Not Be Afraid. When we live in fear we can be manipulated—by government and by religion. We can make huge mistakes because of fear. We can completely misunderstand who God is as we hear the pronouncements of fear religion. Fear leads to injustice and pain. Fear leads to spiritual slavery and bondage.
As we read in 1 John 4:18, there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…
God’s love has come to this world and is still here— NOW—in this world in the person of our risen Lord and Savior. God’s love and his grace is here NOW—and gives you freedom in Christ. That’s the Christmas message for us—today—right NOW! Do Not Be Afraid.