For many people, the one thing they do not want to miss at Christmas is family. Getting the extended family together, remembering times and loved ones past, sharing a sumptuous feast, a few days of relaxation from the normal grind – that is what Christmas is all about. In our increasingly mobile culture, where extended families stretch all over the country and even the world, family is certainly a good thing that many do not want to miss during this season of Advent.
Ask a kid, and presents are likely the things they do not want to miss at Christmas. What would Christmas be without presents for everybody, as far as that matters? Sure, the tree is nice and all, but come on, man! It is the stuff under the tree.
For many others, even those who are not Christians, it is the “feeling” of Christmas that really matters. Lots of people who have never darkened the doorway of a church still set up a tree, put together a shopping list, maybe even sing a few carols. The “Spirit of Christmas” may be just about any spirit at all, but it does not really matter as long as there is some sense of happiness in the air.
However, I wish to offer another “don’t-miss-this” proposition for this 2015 Christmas — something that most people would seem to be missing in a world where the choices for presidents are “may the worst man or woman lose”, where senseless violence and terrorism light up our TV screens, and disease and death are at the forefront of the minds of many.
Anxiety runs high during this time of year. However, my simple suggestion to enjoy this season is four simple words, “Do not be afraid”. The gospel writer Luke uses this phrase three times in the first two chapters, each time spoken by the angel Gabriel. It functions as a kind of reassuring statement for the story that will follow (i.e. the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus). It is because of the newborn King that the people of Israel – and us, too – need no longer be afraid. We don’t want to miss out on family, presents, or the “feeling” of Christmas. However, Christmas is an opportunity not to miss out on being unafraid.
The fear of unanswered prayer
The first time Gabriel appears is to the old priest Zechariah, whom Luke uses as a kind of link to the Old Testament and the temple system. The angel says to the old man, “Do not be afraid because your prayers have been answered” (Luke 1:13). They were going to be answered in a personal sense because Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were going to have a son who would become John the Baptist. Elizabeth was well past child-bearing years so this announcement was not only a joy, but a shocker. God was going to do something about the plight of his people who had lived under the shadow of fear and oppression for generations. This child would be the forerunner of Christ.
God’s way of answering our prayers is often by doing something beyond our hopes and expectations. Sometimes our prayers are answered in ways that we want, but more often we see God at work in giving us what we really need when we need it.
The fear of being out of God’s favor
The second time Gabriel shows up he visits Mary. He says to her, “Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30 NIV). It was not that Mary was especially wonderful or perfect. God chose her because He chooses to favor the unlikely, the obscure, the innocent and even the mistake-prone to do his most important work. Like us, Mary is offered an opportunity. She will be blessed in bringing God into the world. However, that blessing would cost her something, as always seems to be the case.
Do not be afraid. YOU have found favor with God. That is the second message we do not want to miss over the next two weeks. God favors each of us, loves us with an everlasting love, loves us enough to come as one of us, die for us, live with us and in us. It is not favor that we can earn. It is His ultimate gift, which is far better than all the presents under our tree. We call that gift “grace” and God offers it to us lavishly.
The fear of uncertainty
The third angel announcement takes place out there in the fields beyond Bethlehem. Shepherds, who were the poorest of the poor, the church rejects, were watching over their flocks when the angel appears. Scripture declares that the angel again proclaims “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. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12 NIV).
Notice the angel’s song after the birth announcement of Christ: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14 NIV). It was an announcement of peace, not despair and definitely not fear. It is good news for everybody.
The grounds for hope on Christmas is that no matter what is going on in our lives, in Christ, God promises to set the world right once and for all. In the meantime, listen to what the angel said three times: “Do not be afraid.”
Money will come and go, yet God is still with us. Our health may fail, yet God is still with us. Our lives may be broken by sin and our past mistakes, but God is still God and that is the good news for us all. Our failures are not final, our infirmities are not ultimately fatal, and our death will not be the last word. Things always appear worse than they are and time always brings about a change. Let’s not miss out on the opportunity to be unafraid. Think of it as the perfect gift for those who think they have everything and for those who have little.
Co-Pastor Vickie and I wish a very blessed “holy day” to everyone reading this blog and a special Advent blessing to our Mt. Pleasant Worship and Outreach Center family. Enjoy this season and above all FEAR NOT! We love you all with the love of Jesus. MERRY CHRISTMAS!