We live in a world filled with fear. Everywhere we turn we hear things like, “Don’t do (say) that, you might get hurt.” “Do (say) this, or you will be hurt.” “Be this or that so that things will be better, or okay, or not bad.” How could most of the laws, rules and social norms become the way they are if it weren’t for fear. People are frightened. People are terrified. Watch how people walk around, paying attention to everyone and everything around them. We live in a fearful world.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear… (Luke 2:8-11)
In our text, we see the shepherds, minding their own business watching their sheep. You get the sense of calm and serenity (v. 8). Then out of nowhere, an angel of God (Gabriel? 1:19, 26) appears with the glory of the Lord shining around him (v. 9). In this text we don’t get any more explanation than this, but in Isaiah the angels are described (Isa 6:1-7). Naturally, the shepherds had the same reaction to the angel that Isaiah had—sheer terror (v. 9).
The angel immediately tells the shepherds to not be afraid (v. 10). He said he had good news (Gospel) of great joy that will be for all the people (v. 10). What’s the good news? That in the City of David (Bethlehem) a savior has been born (v. 11). Not only was this savior born in David’s city, he is Christ (messiah, the anointed one), he is the Lord (v. 11). This is the only place to this point in the bible where these three words are together in this kind of context (Phil. 3:20; 2 Pet. 1:11; 2:20; 3:18; Jude 25).
And how would they know that this great news is true? Well, go to Bethlehem and see for yourself—a baby lying in a manger (v. 12).
I mentioned earlier that we are a people filled with fear. So, when we read that the shepherds were filled with fear when they saw the angel of the Lord, we might have even felt a tremor of fear for thim and then as I read the description of what an angel looked like, especially surrounded by the glory of the Lord, you may have felt a small tremor there as well. We live in a world that isn’t safe. We learn about it from the moment be become mobile. Psychologists (our secular clergy) have created categories of fear related illnesses—over 500 recognized phobias, 1,000’s of disorders, illnesses, and syndromes all of which are connected to fear in some way. And if nothing changes fears do not diminish through our lives, rather they increase and morph into other more socially accepted things, but no less destructive to our lives. As Ed Welch says (in Running Scared) “life is fragile and we are always vulnerable” (p. 25).
Its difficult to imagine a world without fear and so when an angel pops out of nowhere and tells the shepherds to not fear, they have no idea what that means or how to respond. What does it mean to “fear not”? Lest you think you don’t fear, let me illustrate by some words/behaviors/thought processes that we don’t usually associate with fear, but really are: worry, anxious, needs, value, anger, grumpy, melancholy, depression, power, control, organized, lazy, cheating, fashion conscious, etc.
The Most Frequent Command:
Contrast or compare this with the command God gives the most number of times in the Bible. You might think it is something like “Love one another,” “Love God,” “Do what I tell you,” Nope. Its “Fear not!” “Do not be afraid!” “Do not fear!” Over 300 times God tells his people not to be afraid.
Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. (Gen 46:3)
And the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. (Jos 11:6)
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” (Jer 1:8)
But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Mat 14:27)
And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Act 18:9-10)
…as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1Pe 3:6)
You might respond with something like: You don’t understand, I’m afraid because there really are scary things out there. They might get me. There are consequences and dangers right around the corner. And what happens if God doesn’t come to my aid in time? You know sometimes he waits for a long time. What these questions show is that fear wants immediate attention, it is impatient, can’t wait. But it is right in one sense. God loves a cliff-hanger, he loves to come riding in on his white horse in the last moment to whisk his people/person out at the last moment. But what this ends up being is a highlight to the fact that we are in competition with Who Gets to be God in our lives. Fear with its driving, controlling, worrying, fretting, anxiety.
When fear come to us, our natural tendency is to do a lot of research. We think that if we can just get enough information the vast amount of knowledge will somehow topple the horror of fear. If we can just understand what is happening to and around us it will mitigate the fear. In reality what we are trying to do is to put off whatever we fear; to hold it at bay or at arms length—a temporary stay of execution.
But in trying to use our brains we allow the fear to force us to forget that important things about who we are and who Got is. God is near, he hears us, he tests us, he gives us grace for today, he delivers, he delights to reveal himself to us when we need him most. Fear leaves us doubting God. And this is exactly where we need to talk to ourselves instead of listening to ourselves.
The angel comes to the shepherds and tells them to fear not. Don’t fear! But he doesn’t leave them there. God never does. He never just says don’t fear. He always gives a reason to stop fearing. In this case the angel says, “Don’t fear, I’m’ not here to hurt you, I’m here to give you good news. Not only that but you’ll never need to fear anything again. You need to know that God is doing a work. He’s come to earth to be a savior to be the savior. He’s the messiah, the Lord of all the universe and he has come to you to set you free. He isn’t telling the shepherds to stop fearing like someone might say to stop thinking about pink Elephants. He is saying think about something more important, true, and glorious. Jesus has come. God the Savior, the Lord, the Christ. Come and see him!
In his Word, God comes to us in many different ways saying the same thing: Fear not. He comes in a still small voice, in the guise of a powerful angel, a humble apostle, the Lord Jesus himself, and in a baby in a manger. Peace, I give you (Jn. 14:27. Freedom is found in me (Rom. 8:2). Fear no longer has any power over you if you will lay down the care of your life at the foot of the cross, come, and follow me. Freedom sets us free from the bondage of fear (Rom. 18:21). Freedom says, no to worry, strife, anxiety, panic, and doubt. Freedom, God’s freedom, allows us to worship that baby in his manger, that Christ on the cross, and that risen Lord on his throne.
1. Hear what the angel said to the shepherds: Do not be afraid. Make up your mind that though you can’t see the future, you’re going to trust the one who can, and stop being afraid.
2. Remember that you can’t just stop unless you trust the One who gives the command. So make up your mind to trust God. How often have you been tempted to do something sinful and before you go for it, you hear the voice of God telling you to do the right thing instead? In that moment you make a decision to serve the living God or to do your own thing. God loves you, make up your mind to do what he says. Even if you don’t have a visible reason to do it. Don’t fear, only believe and obey. Obey badly, but obey.
3. After you have obeyed, check it out. The angels told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem and see the baby in the manger. You also, come to Christ and see if he isn’t trustworthy. Read your Bible and see that he has been faithful to his people through all of history. Instead of studying the thing you fear, study the One who releases the captives. “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Psa 34:8). But do it after you have already obeyed—unless you already haven’t.
4. Know that fear does not just give up and go away. Fear in all its representations comes at us over and over and over again. Know that you need to continue to come to Christ. Even if fear takes you by surprise and slams you into a deep depression, remember to talk to yourself instead of listening to yourself. God wants you to return to that manger, to that cross, to that open tomb. Start all over start again where you began at first. Over time and slowly the times of fear will begin to be further and further apart and will be shallower and shallower in strength. Faith grows, trust comes, belief hardens into instant and permanent resolve.
5. What does running to God, trusting God, looking at God look like? God is a God of relationship. He is not a distant God sitting in a palace far away. He wants us to walk with him, communicate with him, live with him. He wants to be in everything we do, think and say. He want us to think about how everything we do in how it affects our relationship with him. This is easy to do when we think about how everything we do is impacted by our children, by our spouses. We would never make plans to do or go somewhere without thinking about how it will affect our family or friends. They are always on our minds. God is the same way. Everything we think, do and say is impacted by and colored by our relationship with God. Pray, Bible study, Song, fellowship, ministry (allow others to minister to you as well).
Everything on Its Head:
Go to the manger. See the baby lying in the manger. See God lying in the manger for you with the future coming. God does most things in a way that no one would have imagined. Instead of coming with trumpets and loud cries with fancy cloths and a nice jet. God came to earth in a family full of outcasts and sinners. He comes to an unmarried woman, a poor man, in a backwater town, in a manger a feeding trough for the animals. Then he spent his life with the poor, the sinners, the social outcasts, finally dying on a cross with criminals, cursed and beat up by people who in reality weren’t worthy to untie his sandals. He did it for you and for me. Don’t be afraid. Don’t fear. He became one of us so that he could save and protect us from everything that makes us afraid. Nothing can harm us. Nothing can touch us. We may die, but we will never die. We may be hurt, but it will not last. God did it all because he is God and he loves us.
As you open your presents this Wednesday, remember that baby in the manger, the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.