Summary: Christmas is a time of cheer. You might respond with, "not this year. The Christmas cheer has been replaced with Christmas fear!" There was both fear and cheer surrounding the events of the first Christmas.
There's a Christmas song titled, Holly, Jolly Christmas. It starts out, "Have a holly jolly Christmas; It's the best time of the year. Now I don't know if there'll be snow; But have a cup of cheer". I wonder what's in that cup? But Christmas is a time of cheer. You might respond with, "not this year. The Christmas cheer has been replaced with Christmas fear!" I hear you.
But even though there might be some Christmas fear this year, that doesn't mean there can't be any Christmas cheer. There was both fear and cheer surrounding the events of the first Christmas. Obviously their fears didn't come from COVID and their cheer didn't come from a cup. Let's see what did cause their Christmas fears and Christmas cheers.
1) Christmas fear.
Fear is not an emotion we would normally associate with Christmas. But for some, fear may be a part of their Christmas season. They're afraid they won't be able to find the perfect gift for the people on their list. They're afraid people won't like the gifts they bought. If they're shipping them they're afraid they won't arrive on time. They're afraid their Christmas party won't go well or something will go wrong with the dinner.
So, although fear isn't something we normally think of during Christmas we can see how things like fear and worry can be a part of Christmas. What about the fears surrounding the first Christmas? Let's start with Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, Jesus' relative, born about six months before Jesus.
Luke 1:5-15, "In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
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 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. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth."
Zechariah was a priest and it was his turn to burn incense in the temple. When the angel appears Zechariah is startled and gripped with fear. One might think, 'he was upright and blameless so what reason would he have to be afraid'? No matter how righteous you are, if you see an angel your heart will surely skip a beat.
And it's not like angelic appearances were commonplace. In fact, God had pretty much been silent for the last 400 years! So this came at a time when it was least expected; despite being in the temple. There was another reason Zechariah would've been fearful. Going into the temple and burning incense was no minor thing; it was a serious endeavor.
Some think Zechariah's duties were being performed in the Most Holy place. A priest was the only one allowed to enter the Most Holy Place only once a year. Tradition records that the people would tie a rope around the ankle of the priest who entered the Most Holy place so if he died while he was in there, for whatever reason, the people could pull him out without risking their own life by going in. That's how serious this was.
So when the angel appeared, part of Zechariah's fear may have been due to thinking he was in trouble for not performing his duties correctly. But the angel quickly sets Zechariah's heart at ease. "Do not be afraid". How often has the Lord done that for you? We get into fear mode and God's comfort is right there calming us down, telling us to not be afraid.
Then the angel tells him his prayers have been answered, he and his wife will have a son in their golden years. Not just any son, but a remarkable one; great in the Lord's sight and filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. He will be a joy and delight to you and to many other people as well. How special is that? Zechariah had just prayed to have a child.