Fear Not (Luke 2:1-20)
Rev. David French
What are you afraid of this evening? Strange question for Christmas Eve, I know, but for millions of people around the globe, this evening there is fear about things like the stubborn Covid virus that has had its grip on the world for a while now. Many fear the potential financial fallout from the pandemic or of never getting back to “normal” because of it. So, what is it you fear this evening? Loneliness? Political upheaval? A world gone mad with “wokeness”? Your after-Christmas bills? I ask the question because the shepherds were also filled with fear on that first Christmas night, but it wasn’t about the news of the day. It wasn’t over the price of sheep or the unseen dangers that lurked in the darkness or even the decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. It was the angel of the Lord who appeared to them and the glory of the Lord that shone around them that caused the shepherds to fear as they were out in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night. They were “filled with great fear” Luke tells us (v. 9), “sore afraid” the King James Bible says. The were filled with fear because of the glory of the Lord that shone around them when God’s angelic messenger spoke to them.
To be sure this was a godly fear that the shepherds had felt. It was a fear that recognized and acknowledged the presence and holiness of God that filled the nighttime sky. It was a fear that quietly confessed their complete unworthiness to even be in the presence of His holy angels because of their unnumbered sins. It was a fear that left the shepherds feeling exposed and naked before God whose glory surrounded them when his messenger appeared to them on that cold winter night out in the fields surrounding Bethlehem a long ago.
And what about you and me? We’re certainly not shepherds, but we do each have our own vocation: father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, employee, medical technician, nurse, schoolteacher, accountant, road worker, firefighter, paramedic. We each have our vocation, just as the shepherds did, and we live and move and have our being in whatever “field” God has called us to and over whatever “flock” God has placed under our care. To be sure, the times and places have changed, but people have not.
While we may not see the angel of the Lord appear to us or the glory of the Lord shine around us, when confronted by the word of God, we have no choice but to remember that fear, because as the writer of the Book of Hebrews reminds us, “no creature is hidden from [God’s] sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (v. 4:12–13). It’s true. We may not see it, but yes, the glory of the Lord shines around us whenever and wherever our lives come face-to-face with Him who meets us in His Word and Sacraments. As God revealed through St Paul, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). And that glory of God which shines around us, as often as His Word breaks into our comfortable lives—that glory of God should rightly leave us, like it left the shepherds, filled with fear, utterly exposed, and sore afraid because we know our sin.
But for those are filled with fear at the prospect of standing before God alone on Judgment Day, take heart for God’s Spirit works within you a godly repentance, that is a true sorrow for your sins, not just sorrow in your mind or heart, but in your spirit. The kind of sorrow that causes you to try and hide your nakedness, that is, your shame and leaves you thirsting for the mercy and love of our gracious God. You see, this trying to hide our sin because of the shame that comes with being exposed is nothing new. It’s been going on since Adam and Eve. After listening to satan [sic], they were afraid and hid from God and tried to cover their shame with fig leaves.
The message of Christmas, God’s Good News for you again this morning, is “Fear not!” Fear not, for God himself has acted to save you from your sin. He who created you and was grieved by mankind’s turning away from him, He who is love still wants all people to be saved and to know life as it was meant to be, life as it was in the beginning. Our loving Savior, the Lord of heaven and earth, God almighty has come into the world as one of us.
Truly our Creator is beyond all human understanding. He has done for us what only God could do to satisfy His justice and show His mercy to broken sinners like you and me. God the Father, as you well know, because of love, sent His one and only Son into this world to assume or take on human flesh so that He might become sin for us, by living according to the Law of Moses or the Ten Commandments as they were supposed to be lived; and I’d say perfectly, but that seems to carry the idea of sacrifice when to live them perfectly or as God intended them to be lived ... which means like Adam and Eve before sin, that is, in true peace and joy. But while fulfilling the commandments opens the door to showing mercy, there was still justice for sins committed to be had, and so Jesus offers His perfect life on the cross for all of God’s creation and silences the accusation of the Law forever! It is an amazing thing we Christians remember and share with the world through our celebration of Christmas.
We frail humans are sometimes forced to alter our Christmas services because of things from bad weather to viruses, but on that first Christmas, God’s plan to cancel the consequence of sin, and then sin itself, forever was born! And so, the angels sang their glorias and proclaimed their message, “Fear not for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (vv 10–11).
In Christ there is no need to fear, for you are surrounded by the glory of the Lord. In Christ, there’s no need to fear standing before your Maker on the Last Day, because by the faith He created and sustains in your heart, you do believe the words spoken by an angel to the shepherds! By grace and the miracle of your baptism, you are always in Christ! And in Christ, that is fearing and loving and trusting him above all things, God’s final Word to you is good news. It is grace and mercy, because Jesus Christ has borne in his own body, exposed and naked hanging on a cross, the full wrath of God for your sin.
So fear not! “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (v 11).
In His name, Amen.