Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, dear friends in Christ, Miss Jennifer, she was an elderly lady who belonged to the church I vicared at in Johnson City, TN. She didn’t live in the best part of town and so she had acquired a guard dog for her home. Apparently, this dog had been abused by men and so hated all men. Which was good for Jennifer who lived alone, but not good for the vicar when he stopped by to see her. I went to check in on her at her house and the dog was chained up right in front of her door. I reached out to let the dog sniff me and realize I was a nice guy, but before knew it, the dog ripped my folder out of my hand, papers flew everywhere, then it lunged at me, biting a hole in my pants, knocking me to the ground, thankfully just outside of the chain length. I can’t remember too many other times when I’ve been “gripped with fear”; that was definitely one of them! What about you? Have you felt instant terror? Perhaps startled at some sounds in the night. Perhaps something surprised you suddenly. Perhaps someone or something jumped around the corner at you.
Well, try to imagine what it must have been like to be one of those shepherds on the night Jesus was born. There they were, doing their work, minding their own business, on a calm, still, quiet night…when all of a sudden, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them”! And they were…terrified! Literally, the Greek says that they “Feared fear, GREAT!” Why did they react that way? Was it because they had been startled? Was it fear of the unknown? Perhaps, but mostly, it was the fear that sinners always feel when they are confronted by the sheer blinding holiness of God. Put yourself in their shoes, how would you have reacted? As that perfection of God surrounded you, what would have seen about yourself?
Perhaps there’s all kinds of things that cause us to be afraid. The world lives in constant fear of another war, another riot, another uprising. Insurance companies often play on fears- how will your loved ones survive if you die? What will happen to your finances if the economy tanks? And then there’s a thousand little fears, the cares and anxieties that creep into daily life, how often we say, “I am afraid that…” But the greatest fear is what we see here. Confronted with the holiness and perfection of God, every person is gripped with fear. Why so? It began in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve hid from God, why? “I was afraid, so I hid.” Fear is caused by sin. And so, imagine being one of those shepherds. Confronted with the perfect holiness of God, how do you and I look? We’re sinful, shameful thoughts, disgusting words that have come out of our mouths, we can’t reach perfection in anything. And so we would see our own sinfulness so clearly and we would have reacted just like those shepherds –terrified.
Which makes what the angel said, so, so beautiful. “Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD news of GREAT joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Notice what the angel didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Oh, you’re really not that sinful or as bad as you think.” Nor, “If you would just work harder at being good, then you wouldn’t be so afraid.” “Nor, “Oh, God’s kind of like an old grandfather who just thinks it’s so cute when his kids are naughty.” Nope.
What did the angel say? In essence, “Yep, you’re just as sinful as you think you are. You deserve to go to hell just as much as you think you deserve it, probably even more. But!! God has come to save you! Come to rescue you!
That message – the message that God has come to rescue us – is finally the ONLY message which can really drive fear and doubt out of our hearts and minds. That message – that Jesus has come and has paid for our sins in full – is the only message that can bring peace to our lives of fear. That baby born in Bethlehem is the Savior or your past. No atoned for sin can rise to frighten you-He paid for them all. He brings peace to your soul through the forgiveness of your sins. Joy replaces fear. That baby is the Savior of your present. All power is His. He rules all. Joy to the world the Savior reigns. He rules your whole life! And that baby is the Savior of your future. He is right now preparing a place for you in the mansions of heaven. Even death has lost its sting, grave its victory. Even in the face of death we too can depart in peace for our eyes have seen our salvation.
So what is it that fills you with fear this Christmas? Listen to the angel, see your God come to save you, and do not be afraid. Amen.