‘For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,’ declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 41:13-14
Luke 2: 8-20
2:8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
2:9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
2:10 But the angel said to them, «Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
2:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Now, I have a dog that was rescued from the streets, and she is generally fearful and anxious. If the angels had appeared with her around, I’m not sure whether she would have frozen, fled before they gave the message, or lashed out and tried to bite an angel! Because that is how she responds in fear: flight, fight or freeze!
There’s a meme going around the internet that there are 365 verses in the Bible of «don’t be afraid» or «fear not». Unfortunately, there are only about 119 such verses, but there are more than 300 more that speak about «when I am afraid» and the ways that we can respond when we are afraid. For me, it is really important to know how to manage fear and anxiety, because otherwise I spiral downwards into anxiety attacks. Anxiety is simply generalized fear: people living with constant fear. When most people think of anxiety, the image that comes to mind is generally of someone biting their nails, obsessing, and tossing and turning wide-eyed in bed, unable to sleep. For me, that’s not anxiety. I don’t turn into a helpless mess on the floor. I get irritable and angry!
Rage seems to feel safer than anxiousness and masks the true emotion. It’s easier for me to direct the emotion outwards at someone else, something else or some situation than it is to face the inner facing anxiety.
Having anxiety doesn’t just mean being nervous or worrying. When my mind starts racing and I can’t decide which thing to think about, that’s anxiety. When my chest feels like it’s going to explode from pressure, that’s anxiety. When I snap at a co-worker for no reason at all, or I am inexplicably moody, that’s anxiety. When I spend the entire weekend wondering if I’ll be fired for something I said on Friday, that’s anxiety. When I randomly start crying, or laughing, or jumping up and down, that’s anxiety. When I flake on plans at the last minute, you can bet it’s because of anxiety.
“Anxiety leaves you feeling out of control and vulnerable. Anger makes you feel powerful,” he wrote in 2014. “Compared to each other, anger can appear the clear winner.”
But, there is something more interesting about anxiety:
Anxiety is NOT a random, unknown, or uncontrollable disease or illness that you develop, inherit, or contract. Anxiety results from a certain style of behavior. …we create the physiological, psychological, and emotional state of being anxious when we behave in an apprehensive manner, such as being worried, fretful, and/or concerned.
… The problem is that overly anxious personalities perceive danger more often and to higher degrees than those who aren’t as anxious. It’s this overly anxious behavior that causes problems with anxiety in our lives.
So, there is a very good reason why FEAR is spoken about so much in the Bible! Even today, this is very relevant. So much crazy going on around us today – wars, conflicts, persecution, violence, crime, natural disasters, terrorism, economic uncertainty, unemployment, divisions, disease, death. We fear for our children’s future, we fear for our families, we fear for our financial future, we fear for our safety. The list goes on…long. There actually is a lot we could potentially worry about. And yet Jesus says to us:
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26
Psalm 56: 3
When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.
Psalm 23: 4
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
And Jesus reminds us in John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
And finally, Isaiah 26: 3
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
So, we see in the Christmas story a overwhelming situation: the suddenness of the appearance of the angels, the brightness of the light, the sound that must have accompanied their appearance: it must have been how movies envision an alien invasion! Do you run, fight or simply freeze? And so the angels begin their message with «Do not be afraid». They tell the shepherds the good news, and then they give them the instructions: what to do with this information!
Luke 2:12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
And after the angels left, and everything was once more quiet, and dark, the shepherds decide to go and see the baby.
But every Christmas story has a lesson for us. It was not just for the shepherds on that day in Bethlehem. We are called:
Do not be afraid.
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: the anointed one, the Messiah, was born over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.
And we have seen the signs and know of the wonder.
But have you gone personally to see Jesus? Have you taken the time to actually meet Jesus? How does Christ call you to live? What does Christ call you to do?
As we enjoy this Christmas day, let us remember to live without fear, to keep our minds stayed on God in perfect peace, trusting in the perfect plan for our lives. And let us share the good news with others: «Do not be afraid. There is good news of great joy for all the people!»
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9