In 1868, standing on the hills of Palestine, looking down on the town of Bethlehem, Philip Brooks wrote the words to O Little Town of Bethlehem. A line from the song says, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Bethlehem, a town where even today hope and fear collide, becomes the birth place of God’s light.
For many, it has been more of a year of fear than hope: a loss job, a failed marriage, broken dreams, and streets of violence, bad health, and death of someone we love. Political leaders want us scared to death because it is easier to control with fear than it is with love. Addicted to fear, presidential candidates buy votes on scare tactics. When the question up for debate is, “Are you okay with killing innocent children,” we have a fear problem.
What do you say to the fears that loom over Christmas, “pass more egg-nog” or “give me another slice of pie?” “Place more presents under the tree” or “switch aging-cream brands?” What do you do when the latest breaking news is louder than the angel’s announcing good news?
Pretend this happened: An angel gets back to heaven, rushes up to God, and says, “I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news.” God says, “Well, give me the good news first.” “The good news is,” says the angel, “mission accomplished. I’ve visited all the people you told me to visit and told them all that you told me to tell them.” God says, “So what’s the bad news.” The angel responds,“The bad news is that the people are afraid. Every time I visit someone I have to start it off with “do not be afraid.” God says, “That is the reason I must give them my love. Perfect love casts out fear.” The message of Christmas is that you can never defeat a monster, especially a monster as ugly as fear, by becoming a monster. Unless we let love drive out our fear, our fears will drive out love.
Christmas has its effect because it is God’s love for us. Christmas is God’s assurance to a frightened world that God is with us. “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Immanuel – God with us. In a world manipulated by fear, God dwells.
I know it is easier to hide under the covers, to try to drown out the fears in a bottle, or take more pills, but when you wake up the fear is still there. We don’t like to admit it but we are afraid. We’re afraid of all sorts of things. We are scared to admit our fears.
No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter the circumstances, hear this message: Do not be afraid. From the streets of Paris to the streets of San Bernardino, California, do not be afraid. From the surgery room of Northside Hospital to the cemetery on the hill, do not be afraid. From the halls of congress to the White House, do not be afraid. To the father without a job, kids split by divorce, do not be afraid. To the sick and suffering, lost and lonely, do not be afraid. To those feeling abandoned, do not be afraid. The angel’s message, do not be afraid, means that fear’s grip on our hearts is going to have to give way to the greater power of love. Do not fear! Love has been born and it has a name – Jesus.
There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:8-15)