Everybody has fears. I have fears. You have fears. Most of us don't talk about them. But they're there, lurking in the shadows.
The most commonly identified fears are phobias. When I was a child, I was afraid of birds. If there were birds on the front lawn, I wouldn't go outside to play. By the logic of irrational fears, that meant I was terrified by the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz. There's also the fear of heights, closed spaces, spiders, snakes, and, as we learned in A Charlie Brown Christmas, there's triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number 13. We can be fearful people.
Then there are the more existential fears, like the fear of not being liked. That's at the root of being a people-pleaser. There's the fear of dying alone. There's the fear a hidden secret will be revealed. There's a fear of not being loved or having someone to love. Fear is a clear and present - and most times, dangerous - emotion.
It's not insignificant that, in the two gospels containing birth narratives, "Do not be afraid" is used four times. The angels said it to Mary, Joseph, a priest named Zechariah, and the shepherds. Four times in the Christmas story, God says, "Do not be afraid."
All four had to deal with a different kind of fear. What's interesting is many of us deal with the same kinds of fears today. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?
Has 2020 been a year of fear for you? It certainly has been a long year. We can all agree on that, right? You look at the headlines, and nothing looked good after January. If it bleeds, it leads. Lockdowns, elections, global pandemic, economic crashes, lawlessness in major cities…I don't want to go on. 2020 could almost be called a "fear factory."
For many people, this holiday season will be more a season of fearfulness, not cheerfulness. Some people will be more likely to talk about a scary Christmas, rather than a merry Christmas.
But here is the message of Christmas: Do not be afraid. God says it four
times. He doesn't want us to fear. It's not God's will for your life that you walk around with fear in your heart. Instead, God says, "Be of good cheer."
Are you with me on that?
So, here are the four fears from the first Christmas.
1. MARY HAD TO FACE THE FEAR OF INADEQUACY.
We are all familiar with Mary's story. Young peasant girl. No older than 16 or 17. Engaged to be married. Luke 1:26-33 reports:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house
of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary had so many things to fear. It's easy to understand why Mary might be possessed by a fear of inadequacy. As verse 34 says, "And Mary said to the angel, 'How will this be, since I am a virgin?'"
Do you hear her sense of inadequacy? "How can this be?" You've probably asked a similar question. I know I have. "What's going on? None of this makes sense." Fear rises when we feel ill-equipped to face adversity or the unexpected.
2. JOSEPH HAD TO FACE THE FEAR OF DISAPPROVAL.
Some people fear what others might think. Think about Joseph's predicament. His fiancé tells him she's pregnant. They have yet to know each other in an intimate way. How would you respond? Would you be afraid about what others might think? Would you fear rejection, for both
you and the woman you love?
Joseph's first reaction to Mary's story was disbelief. He decided to break off
the engagement and let her slip quietly off to another village, to avoid
embarrassment. Here's how Matthew 1:18-21 describes it:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
As with Mary, God says to Joseph, "Fear not."
Here's a question - Who's disapproval do you fear? Or to ask it another
way - Do you ever fall into the people-pleasing trap? The Bible says that the fear of disapproval is a trap. In other words, the moment I start worrying about what you think of me, I'm toast. The moment you start worrying about what other people think, you're going to begin conforming your life to their thoughts rather than God's plan and purpose for your life. You have to decide…people pleaser or a God pleaser.
Joseph got to the point where he was able to say, "I don't really care about what other people think. I'm going to do this because it's the right thing to do."
3. THE SHEPHERDS FACED THE FEAR OF SUDDEN CHANGE.
Here's the picture. It's a vivid one. The shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks when Jesus was born. It's open air…animal smells and sounds…not very stressful. They were busy doing what shepherds do. Then the Bible tells us, in Luke 2:8-10:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping
watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."
Do you like surprises? Do you like being caught off guard? Do you like it when plans have to be changed at the last minute? Do you like it when a last minute detail is added to the way you expected things to be? Not many of us like any of those things. Sudden and unexpected change sends a jolt of adrenaline through the body. You jump into fight or flight mode. A
sudden change in plans is uncomfortable for most of us.
That's what happened with the shepherds. The predictable routine of their lives was disrupted. But God didn't want them to be frightened. So God's angel said, "Do not be afraid."
4. ZECHARIAH FACED THE FEAR OF BEING DISAPPOINTED.
How do you live with disappointment? Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth,
never had children. They prayed and prayed and prayed. Then they were
too old for children. Some of you can relate to some sort of deep and
abiding disappointment. Luke 1:8-13 tells us:
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John."
Which of these four fears are holding you back? Is it the fear of inadequacy? Do I have the right stuff? Can I handle what life throws at me? Is it the fear of disapproval? You'd rather go along to get along? Maybe you fear rejection. So you've become a people pleaser. Are you living more to please God or everybody else? Here's the bad news…you can't get everybody's approval all the time or even everybody's approval some of the time. Some people are still trying to get the approval of parents who died years ago.
Some of you fear sudden change. People love predictability and dependability. You've got to learn how not to be fearful in a time of rapid or sudden change.
How about the fear of losing control? That's a big one. I don't want anyone messing with my plans. Do you know how to tell if you're afraid of losing control? Worry. Worry is the warning sign that you fear losing control.
In its simplest form, worry means in that moment you want to be God. Are
you familiar with worry? Worry means that you are trying to control the
uncontrollable by worrying about it. Worry doesn't change anything. Jesus said worry can't add a day to your life or an inch to your height. Worry can't control anything. Worry can't change the past or shape the future. All worry does is mess up your right now.
What fears challenge you? The fear of inadequacy…of disapproval…of sudden change…of losing control?
Here are four ways out of our fears.
1. SURRENDER MY LIFE TO GOD EVERY DAY.
Look at how Mary responded. In Luke 1:38 she said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." That is surrender; every day in every way. God our Creator has a plan and a purpose for my life. That's how I keep centered and focused. And He has blessed us all with a primary purpose for our lives. It's something you might want to write down:
To glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.
That's where you need to be right out of the gate. If you don't get that
right, fear will lie crouching at your door. You need to have more confidence in God than you have in yourself. Amen?
2. STOP LISTENING TO THE VOICES OF FEAR.
To do this, you're going to have to consider cutting down on what you watch on television and listen to on the radio. The media thrives on feeding our fears. Be careful about how much nay saying and negativity you allow into your life. It's easier to do than you think. I've hardly watched or listened to any news of any kind for the past two months and my head hasn't exploded. There's so much negativity around us. Be selective of what and how much you allow into your life.
Here's another huge stress reliever. You don't have to believe everything you tell yourself. Sometimes you tell yourself things are good when they're not. Sometimes you say they're really bad when they're not as bad as you think.
Here's something else you might want to write down:
FEAR IS AN ENEMY OF FAITH.
As Paul says in Roman 14:23: "Everything that does not come from faith is sin." In other words, when you're walking in fear, you are walking in sin. But as the Bible reminds us, perfect love drives out all fear. Listen to the voice of Jesus…the voice of love…rather than the voices of fear and worry that are all around us. Mary blocked out the voices of fear in order to hear the voice of God.
3. FILL MY MIND WITH MUSIC THAT PRAISES GOD.
This is so easy for us to do because the music of Christmas is everywhere. I start listening on November 1. And I'm not talking about the kitschy, cultural holiday music. I'm talking primarily about music that worships and praises God. Listen. Praise is the antidote to panic. Worship is the antidote to worry. What happens when you worry? What happens when you are in a panic? The focus is on you. How do I feel? How competent do I feel?
Why is this happening to me right now? Man, to get out of fear you have to get out of yourself. Fear keeps us wrapped up in ourselves.
So what do you do? You focus on God. You glorify God, and enjoy Him forever. Here's a third thing you might want to write down:
I BEGIN TO LOSE MY FEAR WHEN I DRAW CLOSE TO GOD.
And when we're not worshiping together, music is one of the best ways to draw closer to God. Let music help you focus your mind on God. Praising God through music shrinks the size of your problems while enlarging the size of God. The bigger God gets in your life, the smaller your problems become. If you've ever listened to wonderful Christian hymns and/or songs of praise while going through a tough time, you know what I'm talking about.
That's what Mary did in Luke 1:47-55. In fact, she did more than sing. She wrote a song. It's called "The Magnificat." Here's what she sang:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
That is such a beautiful thing. The singing began with Mary. Not fear. But a song. It's no wonder that Christmas is the holiday with the most music.
4. BASE MY HOPE ON THE PROMISES OF GOD.
We put our hope in what God promises in His Word. In Luke 1:45, Elizabeth says to Mary, "You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he did." Mary had no fear because she believed God would keep His Word.
Do you believe God's promises? Do you believe that He loves you? Do you
believe that Jesus has taken God's wrath for your sin upon himself on the cross? Do you believe that in Christ you begin to live eternally here and now? Do you believe that God wants you to humbly serve others? Do you believe that God works to make you stronger in your suffering or hardship? There are thousands of promises from God in Scripture. Do you believe them?
Make no mistake. Letting fear and worry take up residence in your life while your Bible sits unopened would be like struggling to make ends meet while a million dollar lottery ticket sits in a drawer, unclaimed. Are you with me on that? Feed your heart and mind on the promises of God. As Psalm 56:3-4 says:
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?
Why, then, be afraid? Hebrews 2:15 says, "Jesus delivered all those
who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." That's the whole purpose of Christmas. Jesus was born to die on a cross to deliver us from sin and death. Why, then, be afraid? The first verse from "O Little
Town of Bethlehem" puts it best:
The Hopes and Fears of all the Years are Met in Thee Tonight.
Fear not, for Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.