For all of us, there are times in our lives when fear and worry get the better of us. To others the fears might seem unfounded and even ridiculous, but as we go through them, they can be very real and totally overwhelming. There are so many fears today: fear of the unknown, fear of illness or loss of health, fear of waiting for the results of a medical test, fear or losing a job or fear of never getting a new one. Perhaps harder to live with is fear for those we care about, what the future will hold for our children or our grandchildren?
So the season of Christmas might just be a blessing as it brings us the realisation of the wonderful gift to us from a loving God – a God who sent his only son into the world to take those very fears and to replace them with the joyful Christmas message of light and love and hope.
In many of the Advent stories that are read from the Bible during the weeks before Christmas, we hear of God’s messengers, the angels, delivering this very message. “Don’t be afraid.” When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce that his wife Elizabeth would become the mother of John the Baptist, even in her old age, Gabriel’s first words to him were, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard”. Not long after, Gabriel appeared again, this time to Mary, to announce that she would be the mother of Jesus. And again his first words were, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God”. And an angel appeared to Joseph, too. He was betrothed to Mary and it would have been understandable in those days if he had sent her away, but the angel 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”. And finally, on Christmas Day, in glorious splendour and light, and angel appeared to the shepherds on a hillside while they were guarding their sheep and said to them, “Fear not, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For to you is born in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord”.
Ordinary people who, each in their own way, were asked to overcome their fears and, in faith and obedience to a loving God, do improbable and difficult things. Zechariah and Elizabeth were elderly and I’m sure the neighbours had plenty to say as Elizabeth became obviously pregnant. Mary on the other hand, was just a young girl, she was unmarried and so a disgrace to her family and to Joseph, her betrothed. Everyone would have understood if Joseph had not wanted any more to do with her or her family. But he stood by her. As for the shepherds, they were the first to hear the news of Jesus’ birth, and they went quickly to see the child.
All of these people were asked to do difficult things. It’s obvious that they were afraid. But they were faithful people. Not only did they believe in God, but they trusted in God and in God’s love. They knew deep down in their hearts that if God asked something of them, God would also give them the strength and the courage and everything they needed to do it.
The gifts of that first Christmas are as true today as they were on the first Christmas more than 2,000 years ago. God has things for us to be doing, as we will affirm in our Methodist Covenant service in the New Year, some of the things God asks of us are easy and some are difficult but he will give us the strength and the grace we need to do his will and to be his people. May God fill your heart with his love this Christmas, and may that love overcome your fears and set you free to accept the gifts he has for every one of us – the gifts of light and hope and peace.
Yours in Christ.
David G Vale.