“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.’” (Luke 1:30, NIV)
“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.’” (Luke 2:10, NIV)
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’” (Matthew 1:20, NIV)
If there is any time of the year that we associate with happiness—it’s Christmas! Christmas is the most thrilling season of the year. And for each of us, as we look back over the years, memories of so many Christmases flood our minds. Christmas has a special spirit, even special smells with cooking in the kitchen and the smell of a fireplace. So it has a special feel to it—all these things turn our thoughts to people we love and our most wonderful memories.
It seems foreign that I associate Christmas and fear; they seem worlds apart. But not really! Why? Because 14% of America “feels crippled or trapped by fear and anxiety during Christmas festivities.” That’s millions of Americans fearful at Christmas! Most of us have happy emotions, yet for so many it’s the only anxiety they experience. So, let’s never forget, even at Christmas millions of people are hurting. They are struggling with all kinds of dread, anxiety, and fear—all around us this Christmas are fear-filled people.
And as strange as the suggestion is, for so many people involved with the events of the first Christmas, the word “fear” surfaced. What they heard and saw—filled them with fear. And it’s clearly in Scripture three times. The Bible mentions fear-filled people over and again. Let me list them: the shepherds reacted with fear; Mary, the mother of Jesus, had such fear that the angel had to assure her--“‘Don’t be frightened, Mary,’ the angel told her” (Luke 1:30); and then—there was Joseph lying awake at night trying to unravel the puzzle of his fiancée’s being pregnant. God sent an angel to say to him, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Matthew 1:20, NIV). He needed that word.
As strange as it seems at first, to suggest the connecting of Christmas with fear—it’s really not off the mark. People then had anxiety and fear, and even today, for totally different reasons people face Christmas with great fear. We need to hear again the “fear not” that was sounded long ago. That message powerfully speaks to the hearts of millions today. So, let’s look at three examples that we are given of fear at Christmas—the shepherds, the young woman, and the man planning to marry all had fear as Christmas approached.
I. THE POOR SHEPHERDS HAD FEAR
One translation reads, when the glory of the Lord enveloped them in the dark field, “they were sore afraid.” Another translation reads “they were badly afraid.” And another translation reads “terrified.” The Bible mentions fear twice related to these simple shepherds.
Now, you cannot tell the Christmas story without the shepherds—they play an important part. So then, why were they afraid, terrified, and fearful? Why? Because instantly they were confronted with the supernatural. Suddenly the spiritual word surrounded them and they could not deny it.
We need to remember the role of a shepherd in Jewish culture. Often shepherds were people who were chosen because they were not especially gifted or intelligent. They were often antisocial or people who were shy or something of a recluse. Most shepherds were not highly educated. They lived off the land, they were unshaven and unbathed. So don’t glamorize the shepherds. They were at the bottom of the social ladder. So when the angel of the Lord came:
1. Here Was an Atmosphere Which Was Alien~
It was totally strange to their normal, workaday, everyday world. They were totally awkward in the presence of a holy angel! And maybe some of you here today feel the same—ill at ease in church, around Christmas music and Bible preaching. Why? — There is an authority here from another world—and it’s strange to you.
2. Here Was an Authority Which Was Absolute~
Like the shepherd, modern man somehow knows there must be a God, and yet we react negatively to His complete authority! — “terrified” Yes, that’s the way we often are when we come into contact with God! His presence is often frightening!
3. Here Was an Assurance That Was Arresting~
“Fear not … good tidings of great joy” (KJV)
“‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone!’” (verse 10, Living Bible)
When you talk with people about “What is real Christianity?”—some say one of two things: either it’s boring or it’s frightening!
But, no—that’s totally misguided. Jesus said, “I come that you might have life and life to its fullest!” A relationship with Christ is a joyful thing. People often fear that God’s only desire is to take away all enjoyment and fun. The idea is “following Christ is dull and dreary”—people ask, “How could living as a Christian be enjoyable?” These shepherds suddenly had another world invade their world—it was strange and different. They reacted with terror so the angel said, “You don’t have to be afraid!” And God says that to us now at this Christmas. This is something great—good news, God has come! You do not have to be afraid at Christmas—for God has come to us!
II. THE PURE WOMAN HAD FEAR
Let’s look at Mary and you will see it again. Luke 2:10 says she was in the village of Nazareth. She was little more than a teenager engaged to be married to Joseph. This child of the village, a virgin girl, heard these words: “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled … And the angel said unto her, Fear not …”
For Mary fear came long before fear was experienced by the shepherds—this was months earlier. This fear was rooted in something personal and private. The shepherds feared because of what was around them, but Mary’s fear was because of what was within her!
Think of three things related to this young virgin girl:
1. There Was a Relationship That God Requested~
“Will you let Me use your body for My glory?” — It was a request that was very personal and very consensual. We need to remember how strict Jewish law was. Let me show you, I quote:
“If a man marries a girl, then after sleeping with her accuses her of having had premarital intercourse with another man, saying, ‘She was not a virgin when I married her,’ … if the man’s accusations are true, and she was not a virgin, the judges shall take the girl to the door of her father’s home where the men of the city shall stone her to death.”
Deuteronomy 22:13-21, Living Bible
That seems very harsh and severe, and it was—but why? You and I need to remember the Jews were living among pagan people where sex was used in their pagan worship. God had to say—I want you to be absolutely and totally different. I want a pure and holy people to honor My name.
Verse 21 in that same chapter explains it and gives the logic: “She has defiled Israel by flagrant crime, being a prostitute while living at home with her parents; and such evil must be cleansed …” (verse 21, Living Bible)
2. There Was a Reaction That God Found~
“She was troubled”—today we get very disturbed when God comes and demands something personal of us. And in verse 34 “Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.’”—or, how is this even possible? The answer, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee …” The phrase “come upon thee” is the very same as in Genesis 1:2 that speaks of “the Spirit of God brooding over the dark vapors.” (Living Bible)
But that is not greatly different from Jesus’ saying that He was going away but the Holy Spirit would come and make our bodies the means to advance the kingdom of God. So listen to what Paul said, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the house of God, and that the Spirit of God lives among you in his house?” (I Corinthians 3:16, Living Bible) Mary was indwelt, and in a different but real way, so are we.
So for emphasis, Mary was tenderly indwelt by God—that’s what Scripture says—and in a different way, so are we!
III. THE PROSPECTIVE HUSBAND HAD FEAR
We now focus on Joseph; the third “fear not” was centered on him. It’s all found in Matthew 1:20 and 21.
Let’s understand—under the law of Moses a pregnant girl unmarried and her lover could be stoned to death! And here he was, with the girl he was going to marry pregnant! Joseph must have lain awake at night thinking—“What should I do?” He knew he was not the father! So he decided, because of his conviction and principles, to break off the engagement, but he did not want to disgrace her publicly. And then suddenly the angel came and said, the baby within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit so don’t be afraid--“fear not” to take Mary as your wife. “… do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife … She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21, NIV)
So then, let me ask, what was the cause of Joseph’s fear? Let me suggest the social and cultural problems it would create. You can be sure the tongues were going to wag! Listen, in a village where everybody knew everybody—can you imagine? And Joseph and Mary could not go out and say, “Well, you see, God made her pregnant!” That would have raised a howl of laughter—do you see his reason for fear? What was the root of Joseph’s fear?—in the social and cultural complications that would surely be created.
Two things are evident—people were going to talk and some would raise serious questions. — Do you see it? And in a small village—oh my! The village tongues would be unkind at best and unmerciful at worst.
And the reason—the truth was so unbelievable—who was going to say, “Well, OK! That’s good the girl is with child by the Holy Spirit of God”? This was a miracle and a mystery—even today we don’t fully understand it. Yes, we accept it, but fully understand it, I don’t think so!
And yet—take a look at what Joseph did; he dared to go against the comments and criticism. What a man of courage.
Notice the three responses that resulted: The simple shepherds “made haste.” The mother Mary said, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” The man Joseph “did as he was bidden.”
Oh blessed Jesus, holy child,
Make Thee a bed soft, undefiled
Within the heart that it may be
A welcome place, kept for Thee.