"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"
(FDR inaugural address, March 4, 1933).
It was early in the Great Depression and for many people, there was much to fear. Fear is something all of us experience at one time or another. It is a natural response to unsettling situations. Each of us will be fearful of something sometimes. The problems arise when we fear the possibility of feeling afraid. That surely will stop us in our tracks. It places enormous restrictions on our ability to "step out in faith" into new and potentially beneficial experiences.
It is Christmas time. For most people, this is not a time to be dwelling on fear. "Tis the season to be jolly." "Joy to the World," we sing. Parties, gifts, family gatherings and candlelight Christmas Eve services all push fear into the background, at least for a time. This is a time of peace.
However, at the time of the birth of Jesus, all was not peaceful and joyful under the reign of King Herod. A forced census placed a heavy burden on many. Journeys had to be made through dangerous territories. A young couple was on the verge of giving birth to an apparently special son. How were they going to survive the unwanted journey to Bethlehem?
I have good news for us. The Christmas story found in Scripture does not shy away from the reality of fear in our lives. It does give us a clear solution for dealing with those fears: trust God. Perhaps some examples will help our understanding on this point.
In Luke's account of the birth story, we first hear of Zechariah's encounter with an angel. He and Elizabeth had no children and were well past the birthing years. While serving as a priest at the altar of God, an angel appeared and scared the daylights out of him. "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard." Their son would be named John, the one who would prepare the way of the Lord.
Then, Mary had a visit from the same angel, and "she was greatly troubled at his words." "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God." Sound familiar? Luke even takes us out into the shepherds' fields, and that "fearsome" angel showed up again and terrified them. "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy." Still sound familiar? And what about Joseph? Matthew tells us he, too, had a visit from the very busy angel. "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."
Zechariah, Mary, the shepherds, Joseph - they all had reason to be frightened. You and I are no different; we will all have reason to be frightened from time to time. But the message of Scripture is very clear as to what to do about it: trust God, whose plan for the whole world is its well-being. And that includes the small portion of the world in which each of us lives.
May the Lord's Christmas visit into your life inspire your trust in His unfailing presence and love.
- Woods-Henderson is the pastor at Northway Presbyterian Church in Loyalsock Township.