One of the things I love most about Christmas is the fact that something new and fresh jumps off the pages of God’s Word each year – something I’ve read many times before, and yet somehow, the Holy Spirit opens my eyes anew to a piece of His Truth that I haven’t yet seen.
This year it is the phrase spoken by the angels, “Do not be afraid.” I think part of the reason it stood out to me this year is that I saw it so often in other parts of my devotional reading. A quick search on my favorite Bible reference site revealed that this phrase, or something very similar to it, appears over 80 times in the Bible!
In the Christmas story, an angel speaks these words to Joseph (in Matthew 1), to Zechariah and to Mary (both in Luke 1), as well as to the shepherds of Luke 2 fame. The unspoken assumption here is that there must have been something to fear – why else would the angels tell them not to be afraid?
Elsewhere in Scripture, it is proclaimed to Abraham, Isaac, Joshua, the nation of Israel, Jesus’ disciples, Paul, and the apostle John, to name a few. All are either confronted with God’s presence, visited by an angel, or spoken to through a prophet. In each case, humanly speaking, there is definitely something to be afraid of; angels are scary looking, God is Holy, obedience is hard and often doesn’t make sense, suffering isn’t fun and yet it’s something His followers are pretty much guaranteed. Being approached by your Creator, no matter the form or fashion He uses to address you, is a fearful thought. If we even come close to understanding our sinfulness in the presence of a Holy God, this should shake us like it did them.
And yet His response throughout is very consistent:
“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield” Genesis 15:1
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you” Genesis 26:24
“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.” Exodus 14:13
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” Deuteronomy 31:6
“Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
“Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” 2 Chronicles 20:15
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you…” Isaiah 43:5
“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 1:8
“Be not afraid, oh land; be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things.” Joel 2:21
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
“Do not be afraid…for I am with you.” Acts 18:9-10
“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!.” Revelation 1:17-18
Humanly speaking, following God, hearing His word, obeying His instructions or being confronted with His truth can be scary. But praise God, because when speaking to humans, He reassures us with His presence. Isn’t that exactly what we celebrate at Christmas? Emmanuel – God with us!!
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10