By Peter Janssens
If you took all the fear not commands of the Bible and added them all up, you’d get a total of 365. That’s one “fear not” command for every day of the year.
With this many “Fear Not” commands, it seems clear that one of the most common struggles people have is the struggle with fear.
For example, we fear the unknown, we fear the future, we fear pain, we fear failure, we fear rejection, and the list goes on and on.
As we approach Christmas, we hear the repeated messages of peace on earth and good will toward man, and as much as we want these messages to be true in our own lives, what prevents this from becoming a reality — is fear.
Think about your life right now and the fears that you identify with; because if you can identify with fear, then you’re in good company this Christmas Season. Two thousand years ago, in that original Christmas season, the characters that we still celebrate today all understood something about fear. We know this because each of these characters had angel encounters that began with the words, “Fear Not”.
Some might argue that the reason for this command by the angels was due to the fact that none of these characters had ever seen an angel before, so of course they were afraid.
Yet a closer look at the story might suggest that their fear factor was not just the angel sighting, but also included the task that God was calling them to, and the tremendous amount of courage and boldness it would require to obediently follow.
Think about Zechariah, an elderly priest with an elderly wife. A childless couple, past their years of having children, and God shows up and tells him that he and his wife are going to have a baby who will grow up as the one who will prepare the way for Jesus, the Saviour of the World. So how would all of this work? How would God bring life in a place where there was no life? And who were they that they should be given such a responsibility?
Or think about Mary, a young teenage girl living in a god-forsaken town, and God comes to her and tells her that she is going to be the mother of the Saviour of the world, that God himself would be the Father, and that Joseph her fiancee would not be. And again the questions: How could this be? How could God bring life to a place where there was no life? How can God work the scandalous appearance of it all in order to bring Salvation to the world? And who was she to be given such a responsibility?
Then there is Joseph, a man known for his righteousness and integrity, even though he too was from the despised town of Nazareth. God comes to him and tells him to put his reputation on the line by taking Mary as his wife, even though the child in her womb was not his. But how does this all work? How does throwing away one’s reputation and risking everything to identify with the outcast bring about salvation? And who was he to be given such a responsibility?
Finally, there were the shepherds, the lowest of the low in the whole Roman Empire. They had no town to register in because they lived in fields. They were the nobodies — the nameless ones, known only as shepherds. And God chooses them to be the first ones to hear that a Saviour has been born, that they would find this Saviour in an animal shelter — a place that shepherds could identify with. All of this as a sign that God came to them. So how could this be? Why would God go out of his way to enter their mess? Why would he make them his priority? Why did he love them so much?
It’s an overwhelming question really: Why does God love us so much?
Why would he go out of his way to enter our world and identify with our mess?
Why would he ask us to give up our identity by denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following him?
Why would he want to fill us with himself, and live inside of us?
And why does he call each of us to bring this backwards message into the world that seems to make no sense?
This message that says that:
- The way up is down.
- Overcoming enemies is best done by loving them.
- The way to be rich is by giving away as much as possible to those in need.
- Embracing the despised and rejected of the world is equivalent with embracing God himself.
How can this be?
Why would God want us to do something so hard and so potentially scandalous from society’s perspective?
Who are we that God should choose us for such a responsibility?
These are the questions.
And the answers to these questions is: Jesus.
Because Jesus is more powerful than our weakness. He is capable of filling us with life where at one time no life was possible. He is willing to step into our mess, and help us overcome whatever fear we need to overcome, so that we can live the life he is calling us to live by the power of his love.
Like each of the characters of the Christmas story, the more we give ourselves over to this love, the less we will fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. And this leaves us with more space to experience his peace, his love, his hope and his power — a power so strong that it will not only change us, it can change the world.
Peter Janssens is the Pastor of Discipleship and Outreach at Faith Church in Burlington.
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