(Watch Rev. Marty Vershel’s Christmas Eve invite to FUMCMC.ORG)
In the Christmas story found in the Gospel of Luke, there is one line that I think is at the very heart of the message of Christmas. We hear it when the angels first appear to the shepherds; these are the first words spoken after the birth of Jesus. It’s the first public announcement of the gospel message itself and it comes with the words, “Fear Not.” If we hear nothing else they say, let us hear: You don’t have to be afraid.
I have never given much thought to it before but this is how the Christmas story begins. Not with carols being sung or candles being lit. And while words like hope or peace or joy are at the core of the Christmas story, it doesn’t begin with these words. The Christmas story begins with fear.
Again and again we hear these words spoken in the story of the birth of Jesus. The angel appears to Zechariah and he is terrified. But the angel speaks these words, “Do not fear . . . ” Before Mary heard the news that she had been chosen to give birth to the Emmanuel, the angel comforts her with the same words, “Do not fear…” When Joseph was planning to divorce his pregnant fiancée, an angel comes to him in a dream with the words, “Do not be afraid . . . ” And then to the shepherds, while watching their flocks at night, they are told, “Fear not…”
Fear is a powerful force. And it doesn’t matter what it is we fear because whatever we fear tends to consume our minds and our hearts. Fear often paralyzes us and can keep us from doing the right thing. Fear can make us unpredictable or allow us to distort reality.
Maybe it isn’t possible to live without fear, but maybe that shouldn’t be our goal. Imagine what our lives would be like if we simply lived our lives without fear controlling us. I believe that is possible. After all, the disciple John teaches us that perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
I believe if we quiet our hearts on this Christmas Eve we will hear the angels tell us, “Fear not, for Perfect Love is born in the city of David, and perfect love casts out fear. Fear not, for the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”