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?