Luke 2:10 is one of the most quoted Bible verses, “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings and great joy, which shall be to all people.”[i] Children anticipating dressing in white sheets and wings vie for the position of head Angel in Christmas pageants. Eagerly proclaiming “fear not”, sometimes suspended by harness and ropes from the ceiling. We know the line, we quote it, do we listen to it, do we obey it?
“Fear is one of the seven universal emotions experienced by everyone around the world. Fear arises with the threat of harm, either physical, emotional, or psychological, real or imagined.” We are afraid of darkness, heights, spiders, social situations and dying. The past two years of illness leading to death from COVID has been a monumental fear and universally felt. Fear can be a good thing. Fear keeps us from putting ourselves in danger. Fear encourages us to resolve problems so that we are in less danger. Fear encourages us to grow in areas.
When the angel appeared with the message of “fear not” many of us will believe it to be “don’t fear the angel and the host of angels”. As we have many fears in 2021, there were many that the shepherds faced each day. Fear for their livelihood, fear of animals attacking their sheep, fear of government, and fear of illness. Yes, the heavenly spectacle would have caused fear in those who were present, but was there more to the message?
The angel’s command of “fear not” was not new. There are between 365 and 500 “fear nots” or “do not be afraid” in the scriptures. [ii] Jesus often said, “do not be afraid”. [iii] When he walked on the water to the disciples Jesus said “take courage, it is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) The book of Luke has many accounts of Jesus’ encouraging words to not be afraid. Fitting, then, is the return of an angel proclamation in Matthew 28, “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.”
How, then, do we react to this command to not fear? People respond in various ways to fear. Some dispel fear with knowledge others with avoidance. Fear, in part, is a lack of faith. From trusting a chair to hold your weight to trusting the airplane mechanic, there is a measure of faith involved. When the Bible is so prolific with the message of not fearing, why do we spend energy on unqualified fear? Are we leaning on our own understanding of things that cannot be understood? Are we avoiding the reality that we need God and a relationship with His Son? Can we practice releasing fear this Christmas season so that Jesus can shine through us to a fearful world? “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). Fear not is followed by “great joy”.