Read the Christmas Gospel here: Luke 2:1-20
And there were shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flock by night; and lo the angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shown round about them and they were sore afraid. And the angel said until them, fear not, but 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!?! Are they kidding? These poor shepherds on night shift have the job of watching and protecting their sheep during the night. They have to be alert. Being a 1st century shepherd could be described as hours of boredom, interspersed with moments of terror. For in the darkness it would be very easy for a predator to sneak up undetected and attack the flock and do significant damage before the shepherd could do anything about it. And we need to remember that these flocks represented someone’s wealth, though probably not the shepherds, as they were most likely hired hands. But in the days before banks people would often put their wealth into livestock. So the life of a shepherd was tough. There was the risk of watching over someone else’s sheep, but not only that, but shepherds were considered to be the scum of the earth. Shepherds were looked upon as dirty and disgusting men who were outcasts from society. But yet it is to these men that the angel appears with an announcement. “Fear not!” says the Angel! What a thing to say. Fear and anxiety were part and parcel of the life of a shepherd. The life of a shepherd was a life lived on the edge.
Throughout the Gospel Jesus is constantly saying the same thing to his disciples and others whom he encounters: Do not be afraid! As Jesus is walking out towards the disciple’s boat on the water he tells them, Do not be afraid; before some of the healing miracles, Do not be afraid; at the empty tomb, Do not be afraid! I do not hear these words of Jesus as a suggestion – but rather as a command! “The Kingdom has come into your midst – do not be afraid – follow me… to the cross!” Perhaps one of the most important times Jesus uses this phrase can be found in Luke 12:32: Do not be afraid little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom… The context for this is Jesus’ teaching during the Sermon on the Plain and he is addressing a variety of issues – eating, drinking, clothing, striving after possessions, wealth, power and status – all of the things that tend to be right at the root of human fears. All of this is like chasing the wind, Jesus suggests. And as we strive after the wind and we struggle and fall short fear begins to grow. The fear that we will not measure up, or the fear that we will fall short and not succeed in acquiring these things that we think leads to a fulfilling life all of this leads us to fear. And , as “Star Wars” Master Yoda reminds us, “fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” For fear shuts us down and closes us off from others. Fear clouds our minds and controls our actions. Fear enables us to be manipulated by those who would exploit our fears to turn our backs on others or to do horrific things to others – especially others who are different from us in some way, or who we see as a threat.
Fear not! Says the angel to the shepherds. For God has entered into this world by being born as a human baby. Fear not! Says Jesus to his disciples of every age. For Jesus has brought the Kingdom of God into our midst and we now have nothing to fear. God provides for us and calls on us to reach out to others, especially those (like the shepherds) who are different, rejected and despised; and to recognize the image of God in all whom we meet. Fear not! Jesus is risen! The powers of this world – the powers of greed, power-mongering, injustice, oppression, selfishness, hate and death have been defeated. In the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus the powers of God’s love, grace, kindness and forgiveness have emerged victorious. There are times when it might not seem so and times when we are overwhelmed with fear and doubt and darkness. But Christmas reminds us that it is into just such darkness that God is born among us in Jesus. God enters into this darkness and defeats these powers of darkness – chief among them being fear.
On this Holy Night/Day, the Gospel story we have all heard so often calls on us to consider our own fears. To peer into the darkness in order to see what it is that oppresses us; what it is that holds us back; that keeps us from reaching out to others and moving forward. What are your deepest fears and how do they affect how you live your life? And then, hear the words of the Angel: Fear not! For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy – for unto you is born this day… a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Thanks be to God!
Have a blessed Christmas!
To listen to Pastor Duncan's Christmas Eve Sermon - click here: "Fear Not!"