The first emotion with which we associate Christmas is joy—pure unadulterated joy. We sing of it in our carols, we etch it across millions of Christmas cards, and we seek to foster it in our various gatherings with friends and family. The angel proclaimed that Jesus’ birth was “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). John Keats once wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Commonly, Christmastime if filled with such rich beauty; therefore, we expect joy to be a central part of it.
And yet, the first emotion that is evidenced within the Christmas narrative is not joy but fear. “Zechariah was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12). “Mary was greatly alarmed” (Luke 1:29). “And the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear” (Luke 2:9). It does not seem right to associate fear with Christmas, and yet, before we read of joy, we are confronted with overwhelming fear.
Some of you reading this right now have real fear in your life. Pause a moment. What is it that truly frightens you? Perhaps your fear relates to some of the common elements of our life-journey. Maybe this fear is about your finances, or a prodigal child, or a pending reduction-of-force at work, or a spouse who suddenly seems quite distant, or lingering shame from some past choice, or uncertainty about the future because of, well, any number of things. Again, what is it that truly frightens you? Take some time and prayerfully discern the answer to that uncomfortable question. And then remember the fear within the unfolding Christmas drama, and learn how it was met.
When an angel of the Lord stood before Zechariah he was filled with dread. In the face of this the angel declared to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard” (Luke 1:13). Capture those last five words. A thoughtful evaluation of Zechariah’s life tells us that he had much fear long before that angel showed up. Those last five words tell us that the “Prayer-Hearing-God” meets us in our fears. He hears our prayers; our cries. We can cry out to him and he always listens. He never turns a deaf ear toward us.
When the angel Gabriel stood before Mary she was greatly troubled. She was quite alarmed; disturbed. In the face of this Gabriel declared, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). Notice that God confronts her fear with his grace, which is the more substantive meaning behind the word “favor.” God matched Mary’s fears with grace, and he can do that for you as well. Elsewhere in God’s Word we see the Lord declare, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In the midst of our alarm, God’s grace is sufficient. Ask him to overwhelm you with his grace. He eagerly awaits such a request.
When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds they were filled with great fear. In the face of this great fear the angel declared, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). God met their real fear with the real news that a real Savior had arrived for them (note the “unto you” detail!). As Savior, this Jesus would powerfully cover all who trust in him, including those fear-filled shepherds. Indeed, the Prophet Micah, anticipating this Savior, wrote, “he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:4-5a). Their overwhelming fear was bested by the arrival of the Prince of Peace (see Isaiah 9:6).
Fear was the instinctive emotion of those first confronted with the Christmas drama. Yet the response to the collective fear of Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds was simply this: your cries are heard; grace is yours; a Savior has come.
Would you apply this Christmas-truth to whatever is causing your to be afraid today? Within the Court of God your cries are heard, grace is yours, and you have a Savior who covers you.
No wonder there can be so much joy!