by Ted Schroder
“And there were shepherds living out in fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. And angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people….This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby.. lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-10)
When the angel announced the good news of the Savior’s birth to the fearful shepherds of Bethlehem, “Fear not!’ it was more than a command to get off the ground where they were cowering in fright. It was a declaration of war on fear. The ‘good news of great joy, which will be for all people’ meant that fear’s grip on human hearts was going to have to give way to the greater power of God’s love revealed in Christ – for, as the apostle John wrote: “Perfect love – the love of God – casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)
The Christmas message – the good news of great joy which will be for all people – is that the love of God has come among us in Jesus to cast out fear. The birth of the baby who is the Savior, is the sign that this good news is for real.
Generations have received comfort from these words for two thousand years, but we are still afraid. While we are scared to admit our fears to one another, our preoccupations betray them. If you were to list your fears, what would they be? We are fearful of terrorism, of bombs on airplanes, of foreigners taking over our businesses, of illegal aliens, of people different from ourselves, of Islamic fundamentalists, of failure in Iraq, of the threats to our troops. We are fearful of global warming, of climate change, of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods and fires. We are fearful of crime, of random murders, sexual predators, school shootings, fatal or disabling accidents. We are fearful of recession, of the opposite political party’s candidate being elected President, of financial insecurity. We are fearful of aging, of cancer, of loss of loved ones, of pain, and loss of freedom. We are fearful of the future, of the disapproval, criticism, or rejection of those whose opinion we value. We fear being thought weak or a failure. We fear being ignored and feeling that we count for nothing. We fear dying and death.
The angel proclaimed the antidote to fear in the coming of Jesus. Jesus reinforced this good news in his teaching. Remember when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water they were terrified and cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)
When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, and Peter, James and John heard the voice from heaven say: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him,” they fell facedown to the ground terrified. Jesus came and touched them and said, “Get up, don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 17:7)
When Jairus heard that his daughter had died, Jesus reassured him: “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (Mark 5:36) And he raised her from the dead.
This war on fear is not denial or suppression of actuality. What we fear may indeed come to pass. Our fears may indeed turn into reality. When this happens how do we cope? If we think that we are alone in the universe, that there is no God to love us, no purpose to our existence, no eternal value to human life, no future fulfillment, no salvation, then we will despair. But if we know that we are infinitely loved by our Creator, that we are redeemed by our Savior, that the Spirit of God is with us to comfort, strengthen and deliver us, and that there is an eternal purpose to our lives, then we can experience hope. Fear is conquered by love. Fear does not reign – Christ does.
The coming of Jesus, his presence in our midst, guarantees to us that there is perfect love which can cast out fear, that death has been overcome, that the power of God is active and alive in the midst of our worst fears.
We must make a choice about what will dominate our thinking. Will our consciousness be preoccupied by our worst fears that this life has no value, no purpose, or will we allow our minds to be filled with the presence of the love of God in Christ?
“I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)
It is so easy to give in to our fears, to be dominated by our fears. The world can seem to be an increasingly frightening place. Our faith is tested by what we see on the television and read in the newspapers. I know what it means to be fearful. I have two children and three grandchildren and I know what it is like to ponder the future and be scared.
What is the antidote to this disease of fear? It is to focus the eyes of our faith on the coming of Christ, the person of Christ, the gift of the love of God in Christ, which enables us to look beyond ourselves and our fears to how we can share the love of God with others.
When we hear the angel’s words: ‘Fear not!’ and surrender our heart to the truth it communicates: the good news of great joy which will be to all people, we will hurry to see Jesus, to listen to him. By making the presence of Christ the center of our attention, by putting him first in our lives, we shut out the clamor of the world, and the temptation of the devil, to be full of fear. If Jesus is on the throne of our lives, fear is banished.
Fear is expelled by the good news of a great joy of the coming of Christ. If we live life in this way we cannot be controlled by fear. If we fight the impulse to live for ourselves instead of for the God who comes in Jesus we will overcome fear with love. If we model ourselves on the humility and meekness of Jesus, coming among us as a baby, and living the life of a servant, rather than seeking to be in control and trying to control others and the circumstances of our lives, we will overcome fear with joy.
This is the meaning of the Incarnation – Christmas – the coming of the God of love among us to share our fears and to overcome them – God’s perfect love casting out fear.
“The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid.
Though an army besiege me my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” (Psalm 27)
Whatever our fears, whatever may happen to us, they cannot take away our joy that God has come into the world to love us, hold us, protect us, deliver us.
(c) Ted Schroder, Christmas 2007
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