Luke 2:8-20: Don't be afraid
In Luke 2:8-20 the pastures are filled with sheep, the sky is filled with angelic glory and the shepherd hearts are filled with fear. And why wouldn’t they be afraid? Would you yawn your way through such an experience? But the angel of the Lord said, "Don’t be afraid." I wasn’t there but I know as sure as Sunday follows Saturday that he wasn’t yelling at them or bullying them into peace. Whatever his tone it wasn’t peevish and born out of impatience. It was assurance he was giving and not an order! No parent with a grain of sense would scream "enjoy yourself!" at the children thinking that that would enable them to do it. Yelling "live!" at a corpse doesn't work!
The fear of the shepherds turned to joy when they heard the message the angel had to bring and when they checked it out at the stable. "Don’t be afraid because..." The reasons for their fear were dealt with in a message of assurance!
Some poor souls are born fearful, they are too high-strung. They don’t need a special occasion to make them tremble. They were born trembling and their social and family environments made the world an awful place. They aren’t one of the "beautiful people" or the "life and soul of the party" types so they’re forever hovering around on the outside of the circle, barely in touch and barely noticed. And as yet they aren’t able to tell those lovely stories about being "the kid that was never picked to play" but then things changed. For them nothing has yet changed and the deep fear that they never will is getting deeper! No one came along to kiss them and turn them from a frog into a prince and for them the beautiful song Somewhere over the Rainbow still ends with heartache and "why can’t I?"
And heartfelt religion doesn’t help them because the kind of religion they get is a ceaseless stream of moralizing, and "let’s all do better" and "let’s make his church grow" and "let’s get involved in the church’s programs" and "let’s give more money" and "let’s..." And it’s precisely because they take their religion seriously that these fearful people are even more afraid. Others are able to shrug and let the preacher babble on but not these people! They’re afraid not to take everything he says seriously but for more reasons than they know they can’t get up for the many challenges the vibrant ministers hand out. And then there are the fear-filled preachers...
Some fools among us mistake their fearlessness for faith. And more stupidly they somehow think they’re self-made! They never knew fear and came out of the womb ready to take on the world and when they came to Christ the assurance he offered only added to the calm that was already theirs as a result of genetic or neural circuitry, early life’s experiences or whatever. And because they were gifted and shaped into world-beaters they tend to think everyone should be the same. But they’re not the same! Those who are so well put together inside know no fear of rejection or failure, they career through life laughing at trouble and finding adventure in everything. Because they know no fear, or because when it comes they have the inner strength to shove it aside they’re tempted to look down on the fearful. For the brave among us the fear of the fearful is easily viewed as failure to be a true Christian and passages like Revelation 21:8 are brought in to threaten the fearful with hell. "God hasn't given us the spirit of fear," the fearful are told; but then nobody's claiming that he did but that doesn't change the fact that many of us are troubled by irrational fears! Keep feeding us something that will control fear and finally obliterate it.
You can’t make fearful people fearless by screaming at them or scorning them or threatening them with dire punishments because they're fearful. And it isn’t courage that leads us to savage such people—it’s stupidity and arrogance. If a man is brawling with a life-threatening cancer we rightly sympathize with him and speak encouragement and assurance to him. If a poor soul is brawling with paralysis through fear we demand that she heal herself! Who would choose to live the torment some of these people endure? Would you tell me that? But if we think we can’t help them then in God’s name let’s get out of the way and let others have a shot at it! I know people like us are a real burden and sometimes we're viewed as a real pain in the neck; that makes sense but Jesus took us in.
I don’t say all fear is of the same kind or that it runs equally deep in everyone’s experience and I’m sure that the help offered must be tailored depending on the person and his or her situation. I believe that what Christ said about the poor is true. In a world shaped like this "you will always have the poor with you" and in a world like this we’ll always have the fearful. I don’t know enough to heal all my own fears much less those of every one else but I know we need to dive into the massive truths of gospel that is brought to us in Jesus Christ. I know that we need to talk to people about their destiny as individuals and why they are in the world at all. I know that the God that came to us in Jesus Christ is a Father to us all and that the thought of him should strike joy into longing hearts. And I know that we need to restructure our whole thinking about suffering in the world and show it to be redemptive. However we speak or sing or behave it should be to echo the uplifting message of the angel to the shepherds, "Don’t be afraid because..." In God's name continue to give us reasons rather than your ranting.