The angel spoke these words to Mary, to Joseph, and to a group of shepherds on a hillside near Bethlehem. “Do not be afraid; for behold I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
Fear has a way of tying our stomachs up in knots, paralyzing our thinking, inducing panic. Fear, and its cousin worry, can capture our hearts when we see ourselves caught in a vortex of disasters beyond our control. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talks about tiny, defenseless sparrows in the context of fear and worry:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
In another place he reassures his followers:”Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Though it’s been quoted so often that it’s become a cliché, Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke these words to a nation at the depth of the Great Depression: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Fear can grip us, choke all faith out of our hearts. Fear also drives economic depression. Fear causes companies to contract and people to stop buying. It causes runs on banks and panic on Wall Street. FDR reminded a nation that fear itself constitutes a large part of the problems we face. It was as true in 1933 as it was on the first Christmas.
On that first Christmas, the world was in desperate times, too. A census is being conducted in order to raise already high taxes. Murderous, paranoid Herod the Great is king of the Jews. It is winter on Bethlehem’s hillsides — and cold. Inside a cave in the town sits a poverty-stricken carpenter and his young wife — far from home, chilled to the bone. She is in labor. Her child will be born in a stable, of all places. Why is it like this? she may have asked. And then she recalls an echo of the angel’s words to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary….”
On the windswept hillsides outside of town, shepherds are huddling, too. All of a sudden the sky lights up and an angel proclaims: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Fear not. The shepherds’ fear is turned to joy as they hear news that a Savior is born. The Messiah! In Bethlehem, the city of David himself! And so they run down the hillsides into the town and hurry from stable to stable until they find the Child in the manger, just as they have been told. Tucked in that manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes against the cold, is the Savior himself.
A Savior comes to rescue people in danger, preserve those who are threatened by harm, and protect his people from the troubles that surround them. That’s what saviors do! That’s what Jesus came to do for us. Do not be afraid because God has sent a Savior to us — Jesus Christ the Lord. He is the One who will:
Never leave us or forsake us.
Supply all our needs according to his riches in glory.
Add to us all the things we need as we seek him and his Kingdom.
Our world doesn’t know. They think that Christmas is about gifts under a tree and a spirit of good cheer, with Christmas dinner and family around the table. But as good as all that may be, it isn’t nearly as good as the Real Christmas. The Real Christmas message is this: God has sent a Savior for you. To save you from your sins and to help you in this life — to lift your burden and ease your fears. That’s it! A Savior who is Christ the Lord — God himself! The world is gripped by fear. But fear’s hold has been broken in those of us who believe the angel’s words: “Fear not … for a Savior is born to you — Christ the Lord!”