Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not be afraid, but live in the joyful knowledge that our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is born for us. Amen.
A long time ago in a garden far, far away…there was nothing to be afraid of and everything was right in the world.
In the Garden of Eden everyone and everything lived in perfect harmony. There was no sickness or disease. There was no cancer or Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or Coronavirus. There was no fighting or bickering. There were no accidents or death.
In this heaven-like garden, God and humans walked together in perfect peace as they enjoyed each other’s company. In this garden you could imagine lions and lambs playing together, with everything in a state of perfection.
And then there came the uninvited guests, and among them was…fear!
Now, you may have expected me to say ‘sin’ or ‘evil’, which would be correct, but sin and evil’s bed-companions are fear and death.
These uninvited guests came into this world because the first humans wanted to be like God. They weren’t happy to know only about the goodness and perfection of God, but they felt God was keeping something back from them. They wanted to know what evil was as well, so they succumbed to this temptation and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
But no sooner did they eat from this forbidden tree that they became afraid. They were afraid of each other’s nakedness, and they were afraid of their Creator.
Being afraid, they tried to hide from each other, and also from God. And from that time on, we’ve all become afraid. Like them, we attempt to hide ourselves from each other and from our Creator. Not only this, but we also attempt to hide the fact we’re afraid.
Oh, I know we all like to put on a brave face and make out we’re all in control and aren’t afraid of anything, but we all have our secret, and not so secret, fears. For example:
- We fear spiders, snakes, and other creepies and crawlies.
- We fear darkness.
- We fear the unknown.
- We fear being out of control.
- We fear what people think.
- We fear letting people down or upsetting them.
- We fear for our children and grandchildren.
- We fear we’re not as important or intelligent or beautiful or loveable as we think we are.
- We fear what tomorrow brings.
- We fear this Coronavirus thingy will continue to disrupt our lives and freedom.
- We fear change.
- We fear losing people.
- We fear being a burden or a bother to others.
- We fear we might miss out.
- We fear ageing and sickness.
- We fear death or the process of dying.
This seems to be our lot in life – to live in constant fear as if we’re enslaved to it! And if we’re not afraid right now, we soon will be, as our life surprises us with ever-changing conditions to our freedoms, or we experience storms, accidents, illness, changes to employment, breakdowns of relationships, and other unexpected events which remind us we’re not really in control. Some of these things happen as a result of our own selfishness. Some happen as a result of other people’s selfishness. Some things happen because we no longer live in that perfect garden and live in a broken and hurting world.
But from that moment in the garden when fear entered our reality, God has kept coming to search for us, comfort us, forgive us, and restore us.
If you think about it, the bible is a long story of God’s people being afraid as a result of losing (or fearing to lose) what we humans desire to get or keep or control, and yet despite their fear, it’s also a story about how God patiently and continually perseveres with his frightened people to slowly reveal his plan to restore peace and joy and to make things right again.
This is what we celebrate today when we hear he comes to us in such an unexpected way in order to save us from the very things we’re most afraid of – from sin (and all its troubling effects), death, and the devil.
And what do we hear through God’s message to us at his incarnation? Well, it’s a story of comfort and peace where God encourages his people not to be afraid. For example:
- The angel said to Zechariah at the announcement that he was going to have a son who would prepare the way for the Lord: ‘don’t be afraid.’
- The angel told Mary when announcing she would bear the Christ: ‘don’t be afraid.’
- The angel told Joseph, who wanted to divorce Mary for being pregnant with the Christ: ‘don’t be afraid.’
- And now the shepherds hear the angels tell them the good news of their Saviour’s birth, but they firstly tell them: ‘don’t be afraid.’
‘Don’t be afraid. Have no fear. Fear not.’ It’s the same message spoken many times at Jesus birth, during his ministry, and also at the time of his death.
It’s not only the story of Christmas, but it’s the meaning of Christ’s incarnation for us. It’s the consistent message from the Word-made-flesh himself, as he continually tells his frightened people, including us some two thousand years later: ‘don’t be afraid.’
But why shouldn’t we be afraid? What’s the antidote for all our fears and anxieties?
Well, it’s not a ‘what,’ but a ‘who.’
As you’d expect, the answer is Jesus Christ, who was born for you in Bethlehem, and whose news was the basis for the shepherd’s reason to not be afraid. But it’s also much more than that.
Now you may wonder what I’m going on about. Am I saying there’s something more than Jesus Christ?
Well, yes, but not entirely.
You see, the problem is our selfish and self-centred sinful desire to rebel against God, which comes with the companions of evil and fear and death. The answer is Jesus Christ and his forgiveness, life and salvation. But the connection between the problem and the answer is…faith. You can also call it belief or trust. The antidote for all our fears is having faith in Jesus Christ, who exactly matches everything which what was communicated about God’s plan of peace and salvation throughout the Scriptures.
It’s even lived out in our text for today.
For example, the shepherds were afraid. They were told not to be afraid, but they were also given a reason. The reason for them not to be afraid is because a child has been born for them.
The shepherds then checked out this news and went and saw the Christ-child. They beheld with their own eyes the reason for them not to be afraid. The reason for them not to be afraid is true. A child is born for them, and it’s none other than Christ, the Lord.
The next thing you know, they went away joyfully from their encounter with our God-in-human-flesh, praising God and telling everyone else about what they had seen and heard. They wanted to tell others not to be afraid because they had personally confirmed, and now trusted, the message of their hope and peace is true.
In our case, well, we didn’t hear the angels ourselves. We don’t get to peek into the manger and see Jesus with our own eyes. We can’t personally confirm the news, which means we can only receive this remarkable world-changing news by faith. It’s only by faith that we can believe what we’re told in Scripture. And if we believe what we’re told is true, then we also have reason not to be afraid.
We’re not afraid because, no matter what we experience in this life, we believe our God loves us so much he sent his Son in human flesh in order to perform an almighty swap with us.
We’re not afraid because we believe he took on our sin and died for us in our place so he might give us his holiness and innocence, and so that we may have hope of walking with our God in a state of perfection once again.
We’re not afraid because we believe he defeated our enemies of sin, death, and the devil so that we may have joy and peace.
We’re not afraid because we believe God is with us always in our trials and tribulations, which means we can never truly be alone.
We’re not afraid because we believe we don’t need anyone else’s approval because we know we’re valued as God’s own child.
We’re not afraid because we believe if God is for us, then who can be against us?
We’re not afraid because we believe we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, who came to fulfil what is written about him. This child who lies in the manger is the child of the promise, the One who came to ultimately fulfil our peace and joy through his work on the cross.
Even though he’s come and gone (historically speaking), the incarnate Christ still comes to you today. He still comes to speak his words of comfort, “don’t be afraid” because he says, “I am with you”.
He comes to give you his holiness and innocence through his words of forgiveness through his chosen servants. He might not come to us wrapped in swaddling cloths, but he comes ‘wrapped’ in water made holy by the word of God in order to join you to himself. He comes ‘wrapped’ in bread and wine in order to reassure frightened people of his forgiving and loving presence and strengthen your faith.
You receive all these words of promise and their heavenly gifts through faith, and then, like the shepherds, you can go from this place praising God because you believe you’ve received what he promised because he gives you exactly what he tells you: life, forgiveness and salvation.
Yes, we all have reasons to be afraid, but we can also have joy and peace because we believe and trust our Lord and Saviour has come in order to fulfil everything that was spoken about him. That, through faith in him, everything will be restored to how it was always meant to be.
Yes, it began a long time ago, in a garden far, far away, but our reason to no longer be afraid has been fulfilled in the manger, on the cross, in the empty grave, and even in our church today, so that…
the peace of God, which drives out all fear, and which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.