We live in a culture that tells us to be afraid, in many ways and by many means. We are told to fear immigrants, refugees, and Muslims. We are told to be on guard, to get a gun, and be prepared to kill or maim the invaders. Never mind that most of the ones we are told to fear are poor and have sacrificed everything they have to flee violence and persecution. They want to come to America in search of safety, security, and a better life. But our leaders tell us to fear the immigrant and the refugee and the Muslim.
The angel said to Mary, ‘Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God’ (Luke 1:30).
The angel said to the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing 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. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger’ (Luke 2:10-12).
In the midst of a culture that counts on fear, God comes and says, “Do not be afraid.” God came into the world as one whom our national leaders tell us to fear. God came into the world through Mary, with Joseph, poor peasants and refugees forced to leave their home in Nazareth and travel to Bethlehem where they had no home. Mary gave birth to Jesus, God’s Son, Emmanuel, in a stable where he was laid in the feed trough.
The angels announced the birth of God’s Son, Emmanuel, God with us, to a group of shepherds. Their work with animals in the field made them outcasts. But God chose to announce the good news to them, and not to the rulers, the wealthy, and powerful ones in Jerusalem or Rome. God chose the outcast. The ones the world tells us to fear. But God says, “Do not be afraid.”
Christmas is the celebration of God’s love sent into the world through Mary and the Holy Spirit, aided by Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zechariah. The birth of Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love and God’s reign of justice and righteousness breaking into the world.
The writer of 1 John tells us “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Jesus told Mary Magdalene and the other Mary on the day of resurrection, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10)!
The Wesleyan tradition teaches that the Christian life is the pursuit of holiness of heart and life. It is the pursuit of “perfect love.” John Wesley describes a way of life that sets us free from the powers of sin and fear:
We expect to be “made perfect in love;” in that love which casts out all painful fear, and all desire but that of glorifying him we love, and of loving and serving him more and more. We look for such an increase in the … knowledge and love of God our Saviour as will enable us always “to walk in the light, as he is in the light.” We believe the whole mind will be in us, “which was also in Christ Jesus;” that we shall love everyone so as to be ready to lay down our life for their sake; so as, by this love, to be freed from anger, and pride, and from every unkind affection (Sermon 42: Satan’s Devices, ¶ 3).
I pray that this Christmas season will be a blessing to you and that you will continue to pursue and to grow in holiness of heart and life; universal love filling your heart and governing your life. I’ll give the final word to Charles Wesley and his powerful Christmas hymn:
Away With Our Fears!
Away with our fears!
The Godhead appears
In Christ reconciled,
The Father of Mercies in Jesus the Child.
He comes from above,
In manifest love,
The desire of our eyes,
The meek Lamb of God, in a manger he lies.
At Immanuel’s birth
What a triumph on earth!
Yet could it afford
No better place for its heavenly Lord.
The Ancient of Days
To redeem a lost race,
From his glory comes down,
Self-humbled to carry us up to a crown.
Made flesh for our sake,
That we might partake
The nature divine,
And again in his image, his holiness shine;
An heavenly birth
Experience on earth,
And rise to his throne,
And live with our Jesus eternally one.
Then let us believe,
And gladly receive
The tidings they bring,
Who publish to sinners their Saviour and King.
And while we are here,
Our King shall appear,
His Spirit impart,
And form his full image of love in our heart.
Charles Wesley —1745