Do not be Afraid (A Christmas Day Sermon)

“Joseph , son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” Matthew 1:18

December 25th, 2008

          Psychologist tell us that a certain amount of fear is a good thing.  Any parent of a toddler who is fearless when it comes to going down the steps head first, longs for a bit of fear to be instilled in their child.  However, those same psychologist tells us that we have many irrational fears, or phobias.   Some of these include the fear of heights, flying, uncontrolled panic in a crowd, spiders, thunder, cancer, death and the list goes on.   For the most part we would be better off if these fears, didn’t “take over” our lives.   In the Christmas account fear is found in almost every major character.      Zechariah, Joseph, Mary, and of course the shepherds first react to the message of God with fear.    However, unlike phobias, irrational fears, these fears were very rational and understandable under the circumstances.  Yet, soon these fears would give way to fears opposite, joy itself.  God led them from fear to joy, through his Word.   He doesn’t change their circumstances, but rather in each scenario brings the good news of Christ into their lives. 

          The first person we see is Zechariah,   John the Baptists Father.  He was a priest which meant that he was part of the Holy Temple.  He of all people should not have been startled by the Divine presence of God.  He and his wife had been praying for years, that they could have a child.  Yet, it seemed to late.   Sure he believed in a God of miracles.  He    knew the story about Abraham, Sara and Isaac along with the account of Hannah and Samuel.  He also must have known that angels were always around him, especially in the temple.  Yet there he a “faithful priest” is gripped with fear.  His fear is released or lessoned, not by getting himself together, assessing the situation, but by the word of God spoken through the angel.  You will have a son, named John, and he will be a joy and delight.   So called faithful Zechariah again questioned God, and so was silent until John was born.  Folks even faithful Christians, doubt, and fail to trust what they have confessed throughout their lives.  We Christians can pray “Lord I believe, help though my unbelief.  We who pray this prayer are part of a long line of believers like Zechariah who struggle, but of whom God once again gives his promises. 

          The next fearful person comes from our text today.   It is a fear never stated from Joseph, after all we never hear from him.  It is a fear assumed by the angel.  It is probably a fear that  came about because of the devastating news that his betrothed was with a child who wasn’t his own.  Talk about turning a life upside down.   He had already gone through the scenarios of what to do, none of them good, so he choose to divorce her quietly.  How many people have been burned by others in relationships, and rather than creating a culture of trust there is mistrust, and with that fear.   The angel said to him, fear not this child is born of the Holy Spirit, and you are to give him the name of Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.   Sin is about something in us, and we can’t pin it on someone else.  Our fears often are not so much what others will or have done to us, but about our own limitations, our own failures.   We are fearful that we can’t do what we have been asked to do at work, in school.   To Joseph, to us t and to us, he angel says, do not be afraid that Savior of our failures/ our sins  wil be born of this Mary.   

          Next we have Mary.  She hears these wondrous words from the angel “Greetings you who are highly favored! The Lord who is with you”.  Great words, a divine statement, and literally it was true, the Lord was with her. He was in fact in her.   It says she was greatly troubled and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.   She wasn’t afraid in the same way as Zechariah, who had a Holy Fear, of Joseph who didn’t have any good options to his new found predicament.  Mary’s fear was a lack of information.  It is not so much doubt, as tell me more, how can this be?  God answers this fear though the angel, by saying that her son named Jesus will be son of the Most High.  The Lord will give him the throne of his Father David, and he will reign forever and ever.   How often have we encountered some sort of news and we realize upon hearing that news we are not in control as much as we thought we were.  A life which appeared to be so predictable, is now filled with unknowns.  Folks with Mary you and I may not know what the future holds, or even how long we have this side of heaven, but remember that the Savior who has attached himself to you reigns, and he is King over sin, death, and the grave.   Because he reigns we will reign also. 

          Our final fearful characters this morning are the shepherds themselves.  Remember the angel came down to Mary and said she was favored, and that the Lord was with her.  For the shepherds, literally heaven comes down to earth.  There is the glory of the Lord all around them, a multitude of angels, the presence of Jesus in their midst.   The English “they were terrified”doesn’t quite do their statement justice.  The Greek says they were fearful, greatly fearful.  This is the kind of fear that brings one face down to the earth.  When heaven meets humanity, no matter how ready one is for it, the only response is great unworthiness.  What does the angel do, he speaks the good news “Do not be afraid I bring you good news of great Joy, that willb e for all people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born for you, he is Christ the Lord.        There is not a soul present here today, that can stand alone in the presence of a Holy God, but folks if God wants to lift us up and make us Holy through his Son, then stand we will.  This is the good news of great joy, which includes all people including you and I.  These Biblical Characters  fear, quickly turned to joy as they heard and subsequently spread the Word about what was said about the child.   We to have these words, and we have Zechariah, Joseph, Mary, and yes these shepherds who God used to share them with us.  Do not be afraid, Christ is born for you.  Amen.