FROM THE PASTOR
“Do not be afraid” is a refrain that runs through the Christmas story. It was said to John’s father Zacharias inside the temple. It was said to Jesus’ mother Mary in Nazareth. It was also said in the middle of the night to the shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem. In each case the message came from an angel who was calming their fear at a supernatural encounter. The uniform witness of scripture is that one’s blood pressure spikes when he meets an angel. Some gentle calming words are always appropriate. Yet I think that throwing off our fears is a theme that runs deep within the season. Christmas offers a powerful reason to not be afraid.
I began to think about this while reading John’s first epistle. In chapter four he writes, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…” The antidote to fear is the experience of love. One who is enveloped in perfect love has no reason to fear. All threats, both true or imagined, are neutralized. Uncertainty melts away. The one who is loved understands that his relationship is secure and that the one who loves him will only do what is good and helpful for him. When the one who loves is the powerful God of the universe, there is no room left for fear. The experience of perfect love drives out every reason for fear and cuts all of its cold tentacles away from our minds and hearts.
Is there a greater demonstration of perfect love than Christmas? Is it not proof that a perfect God loves us perfectly? God intruded into Zacharias’ and Mary’s lives, and startled the shepherds awake for our sake. All the familiar characters in the Christmas story were reacting to God making space for himself within our world. The one who had been impossibly distant insisted on coming close enough to be touched. He moved right into our neighborhood to show us how much he loves us. Actually, he moved to the other side of the tracks from most of us; but still close enough to touch. This move allowed him to reach us in a way that had been impossible before. It allowed us to touch the one who had only been a blazing fire. In his epistle, John also makes a big point about touching, seeing, and hearing the Incarnate God. His physical presence is essential to the Gospel message.
The gospel tells us why this relocation took place. God came among us as one of us to save us. We had turned against him and were suffering the consequences of our rebellion, but he would not turn against us. We could not find a way to undo our mistake, so he chose to provide the remedy himself. He showed us mercy that we will not show each other. We are quick to say, “You made your bed, now you have to lie in it.” God was ready to take our dirtied place and give it back to us redeemed and repaired. God sent his Son as the greatest demonstration of his great love.
So why are we still afraid? It is because we have not comprehended God’s perfect love. We know the words, but have missed the meaning. We tell the story, but miss its soul. Why do we work so hard to limit God’s influence in our lives? It is because we do not trust that he will actually do what is best for us. We have to keep our guard up because we do not believe that God will guard us properly. We are afraid of him because we do not know his perfect love.
I invite you to let the Christmas message change your life. This year, let the love of Christmas penetrate your own heart. Most of us work hard at this season to show love to those around us. Please don’t miss the love that created and sustains the season. When we finally grasp God’s perfect love, we can break free from the trap of fear and insecurity.
The logic of the argument is simple. If God did not hold back his own Son at Christmas, why do we imagine that he will hold out on us now? Let this penetrate your mind and heart this Christmas.