Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11

I know Christmas is already several weeks behind us and I know some of you were probably glad to see it go. It’s easy for all the joy of the season to get lost in the hustle and bustle and be replaced with sheer exhaustion. I don’t know what I like more getting out the Christmas decorations or putting them away after New Year’s. What emotion do associate the most with Christmas? Is it joy, or exhaustion, or anxiety, or love? Today I’d like to talk about the emotion that everyone in the Christmas story felt and it’s an emotion that we can all relate to. There is no one who escapes it.  It follows us around like an unwanted, annoying friend.  But there isn’t a person alive that can avoid it. Yes, I know Christmas is over but I bet you’ll agree that this emotion comes around a lot more often than once a year. See if you can pick it out in Matthew 2 with Joseph:

Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take marry home as your wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 2:18-20

Okay, could you identify emotion that we all feel?  That’s right; it’s fear.  The first words out of the angel’s mouth were “Do not be afraid.”  And those words are repeated in some way to every character in the Christmas story.

Let’s see look at Zechariah.  Zechariah was the father of John the Baptist.  His son’s birth was miraculous too because Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were old.  Even older than me, so super old.  Zechariah was a priest and he was doing his priestly duties inside the temple when an angel showed up:

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.  When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel of the Lord said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to give him the name John.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”  Luke 1:11-14.

An angel appeared to Zechariah and what happened?   Fear.  What was the message the angel had for him?  “Do not be afraid.” Now let’s look at Mary’s story:

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendent of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and called the Son of the Most High.”  Luke 1:26-32

The angel comes.  Mary cowers. The angel says “Do not be afraid.” We’re developing a theme here, aren’t we?  Last one:

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 of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:8-12

The angel comes, the shepherds are terrified, then the message: “Do not be afraid.” Over and over this story plays out: Fear, “Do not be afraid.”  Fear, “Do not be afraid.”

Whose Afraid of the Big, Bad….Angel?

Why is the Christmas story so full of fear?  There are two reasons for this.  The first one I think is fairly obvious.

1. Each of these people were greeted by a larger than life glowing humanoid that has just appeared out of nowhere.

I would say that’s reason enough to be afraid.  If the angels caused every one in the the Christmas story to quake in their shoes then we can probably get a pretty good idea of what an angel must look like.  I think we can say for sure that the angel didn’t look like this:

If this chubby, pink cheeked angel showed up you wouldn’t be looking for cover, you’d be looking for a fly swatter.  No, I think the angel looked more like this:

That angel would cause some fear don’t you think?  Certainly these people experienced fear because of the presence of this shining being in front of them, but I believe there is another reason why fear is so much a part of the Christmas story.

2. We all feel fear pretty much all of the time.

Fear is an emotion that everyone can understand. We all have fears.  We are all afraid…A lot.  My guess is, we experience this emotion more than we do any other emotion.  According to the Bible, this is the most common emotion.

  • Love is mentioned 462 times in the Bible
  • Joy is mentioned 220 times in the Bible
  • Peace is mentioned 390 times in the Bible (most often it’s used to tell us to not fear)
  • Fear is mentioned 491 times and the word afraid is mentioned 150 times.
  • That’s a total of 641 references to fear

We can definitely all relate to the emotion of fear.

Fear Today

It starts young.  When we are little we fear the dark, the boogie man, the monster under the bed. We fear being left along.  We fear bugs and spiders and Frankenstein and the Wolfman. We fear clowns (At least I fear clowns.  Who’s with me?)  We fear sharks and wolves and mountain lions.  We fear earthquakes and tornados and tsunamis.

As we grow, our fears grow. We fear what people are saying about us.  We fear rejection.  We fear failing at school.  We fear not making the basketball team.  We fear that our voice is changing.  We fear that our our body is not like we want it.  We fear that we are too short or too tall.  We fear that our GPA isn’t good enough.  We fear we won’t get into the college we want.  We fear that after college, we won’t be able to get a job.

And the fears don’t stop there.  We grow up and we have new fears.  We fear global warming.  We fear violence.  We fear that the stock market will crash or the housing market will take a dive.  We fear what’s going on in our government.  We fear that our marriage is drifting and our kids are growing distant from you.

Fears never stop. We fear commitment, car accidents, drunk drivers, mental illness, physical illness, racism, sketchy neighbors, drugs, the dentist, the doctor, Ebola, the bird flu, unemployment.

After the list of rational fears that we all have you can add the list of irrational fears that people have.  Psychologists have categorized over 500 phobias and that list keeps going.  Here are my favorites.

  • Nomophobia- the fear of losing cell phone contact.
  • Syngenesophobia- Fear of your in-laws.  (That one is real)
  • Ecclesiaphobia- Fear of church. (If someone hassles you for only coming on Christmas Eve you can tell them you have this.)
  • Anemophobia- The fear of air.  (Seems hard to avoid that one.)
  • Ablutophobia- The fear of bathing. (Hopefully you don’t sit next to someone with this.)
  • Sesquipedalophobia- Is the fear of long words.  (Seems like they should have come up with a shorter word for that just to be sensitive to these people.)
  • Archabutrophobia- Fear that peanut butter will stick to the roof of your mouth.

If there is an emotion we all understand, it’s fear.  We all get it.  We have rational fears, irrational fears, common fears, uncommon fears, but it is one emotion that we all live with every day.

What We Shouldn’t Fear

When God sent his son Jesus into the world, he had a very clear message to each of us and I need to clarify this message.  His message was not, “Don’t fear.”  His message was “Do not be afraid.”  I know it sounds like I’m being nit picky, but I’m not.  When the Bible talks about fear, it talks about it in two ways.

The first way is a list of what not to fear.  On this list are natural disasters, health problems, evil people.  The Bible tells us to not fear men and what they can do to you.  The Bible tells us over and over that we need not fear death.  The Bible has a long list of dangers and troubles that we don’t need to fear, but the Bible never tells us not to fear.

What We Should

The Bible never tells us not to feel fear, it just limits that fear to one object of our fear.  Do any of you know what the object is that God tells us to fear? It’s God.  The Bible tells us that we shouldn’t fear people and sickness and earthquakes, but we should absolutely fear God.

There are a lot of people who don’t like that the Bible says to fear God.  It makes God sound scary and mean and unapproachable.  But I love it!  I’m glad that the Bible tells us to fear God.  I’m glad I serve a scary God.  Let me explain with an illustration:

Let’s say you are walking down the street with a friend.  As you walk, you enter into a scary part of town.  It’s dark, and the characters are shady. If you are walking down a scary alley in a bad part of town with a friend, what friend do you want walking beside you? Do you want that friend to be someone who has never seen the inside of a gym?  Do you want that person next to you to be someone whose idea of working out is running cross country?  Listen, I have nothing against cross country runners, but you know what they are going to do if there is trouble, right?  They are going to run and they will be so much faster than you, that you don’t have a chance.

If you are walking down a scary alley with a friend, you don’t want to be with someone who lifts in a weight room, you want to be with someone who can lift the weight room.  You want to be walking with someone who is downright scary.  Listen folks, our God is not safe, He’s scary.  He is not someone to be trifled with.  Here’s a short list of people in the Bible that learned that lesson the hard way.

  • Annanias
  • Sapphira
  • Pharaoh
  • Lot and his wife
  • Jezebel
  • Nebuchadnezzar
  • the prophets of Baal

These people saw first hand that our God can be scary.

No Fear

The Bible doesn’t tell us to not fear.  The Bible tells us that there is only one thing to fear. That’s God.  God wants us to trade in all our fears of bugs and spiders and rejection and terrorism and global warming for one fear: The fear of God.

  • He doesn’t want us to fear what other people think, He wants us to fear what He thinks
  • He doesn’t want us to fear disaster.  He wants us to know that he will walk with us through the disaster
  • He doesn’t want us to fear death.  He sent that little baby Jesus down here to die for our sins so that when we die he will restore our bodies and make us brand new again.

Yes Fear

Our only fear should be of Him.

  • What does God want me to do?
  • How does God want me to live my life?
  • What will happen if I turn my back on God?

The Word

Those are the only fear we should have.  Do you want to know what God has to offer us if we turn in all of our fears for that one fear of him? There are plenty of places where the Bible tells us:

You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more. Psalm 10:17,18

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me Psalm 23:4

God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. Psalm 40:1-3 

My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me.  Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.  I said “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest.  Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you’ he will never let the righteous fall Psalm 55:4-6, 22

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge.  I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed Psalm 57:1

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty… You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.  A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. Psalm 91:1,5-7

Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever.  He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Psalm 112:6,7 

In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.  The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me? Psalm 118: 5,6 

There are so many fears we can carry with us.  We can fear rejection and illness and financial ruin and even air, but God says there is only one thing to fear.  Fear me.  Fear what I want you to do.  Concern yourself with how I want you to live your life.  Live with an undivided heart.  Fear me and then you will fear nothing else.

New Year’s Resolution

So this blog isn’t a Christmas post, it’s a New Year’s post. I would love to challenge you to live fearlessly in 2017, but I don’t think that’s realistic. I don’t even think it’s godly.  Instead, spend 2017 fearing the right thing.  Fear God and this is what He will tell you.  It’s the same thing He told to the cast and crew of the Christmas story:

  • Do not be afraid
  • Do not be afraid, your prayer has been heard.
  • Do not be afraid, you have found favor with God.
  • Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
  • Don’t fear what men think of you
  • Don’t fear sickness and disease
  • Don’t fear death

Only fear me.  If you only fear me I will take away your other fears.  This year, do not be afraid.

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