Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Be Not Afraid

There were many times Mary and Joseph could have turned around and given up. Not because the journey was so hard, or the task of birthing the Messiah was too lofty, but because so many times along the way they were met with events that required much courage.

  • Mary tells Joseph about the special baby growing inside her womb. Should he go back on his betrothal?

  • Caesar announces a census in everyone’s hometown. Should they travel to Bethlehem, with Mary so pregnant?

  • They arrive in Bethlehem tired and dusty. It might be Joseph’s hometown, but they have nowhere to stay, no friends to help the delivery. How can they go on?

But then, the baby is born. And the angels cry out,

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
(Luke 2:10-11)
Amid the unpleasantness of a strange room, a manger for a bed, and swaddling clothes for newborn garments, a band of shepherds come to worship the newborn King, and all seems to be at peace.

This image is stamped across greeting cards and Christmas carols more than any other. But real-life uncertainties continued for the holy family. In fact, they were just kicking into high gear.

The Wise Men unknowingly informed King Herod about young Jesus when they asked,
“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. (Matthew 2:2-4)
Instantly, Jesus became a rival, and Herod retaliated by issuing a death sentence for all young boys under two.

Another time where Mary and Joseph could have been paralyzed with fear. But an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and says, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13)

The road to Egypt was long and dangerous. The land, filled with foreign gods and unknown ways. Fear.

Jesus’ whole earthy life was met with contention and antagonism. Opportunities for fear. But Jesus’ time in human form is book-ended with the angels declaring: “Fear Not! Do not be afraid.” I think there’s a message in there for us.

A couple years ago I wrote about A Charlie Brown Christmas, specifically the scene where Linus is reciting from Luke 2. As he gets to the part about the angels, a strange thing happens. You have to really be watching to notice. Linus drops his blanket. The item he kept close for security and possibly even courage—he lets it go.

“Fear not!” said the angels. “Do not be afraid.”

I am really good at living in anxiety and fear. In fact, it’s the part of my character emphasized in the Enneagram.

If Jesus wasn’t God, I imagine he could have met his roadblocks with a similar mind. But instead, Jesus passed through His earthly reign as the Prince of Peace, heralded at the beginning and the end with the words, “be not afraid.”

Sometimes we need narratives like the accounts in Luke and Matthew to show us the truths we’ve been seeking all along. Authors like C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and J.R.R. Tolkien knew this. God, the author of life, knows this. We need to hear the angels say to the shepherds, “do not be afraid.” To hear Aslan whisper to Lucy, “courage, dear heart.” Or watch Vicky’s fear wash away as she swims with the dolphins in Grandfather’s cove. And observe Gandalf declare to Theoden, “Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find. No counsel have I to give to those that despair.”

Fear is a common part of human existence. Jesus knows this because he humbled Himself and become a man. He empathizes with us, helps us, comforts us, loves us. But fear is not the end of the story. The final chapter is yet to come, and it is then that darkness will meet its end.

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