Summary: The message of Christmas calls us to a lifestyle of courage
December 8, 2013
One of the central messages that flows through the birth narrative is one of courage. We don’t necessarily think about courage when it comes to Christmas but without courage there would have been no Christmas. Courage is at the heart of every great and awesome thing that God wants to do. I think it is easy to forget this reality being so far removed from the first Christmas.
Courage was needed for several important reasons. Jewish society had become accustomed to living in fear. The people feared the common threads of everyday life like poverty and starvation. The people were severely oppressed by the Roman government. The economy was in shambles, taxation was at an all-time high and violence was rampant in the streets. These were days of great fear because the nation of Israel seemed to be lost in the midst of an incredible struggle to hold their identity and keep their faith.
It may be that the messages of the angels all included the words: Do not be afraid to counter the rising fear in the hearts of the Jewish people. On four different occasions the word of God was communicated through the work of angels. These words were vitally important in the communication of the gospel.
Zechariah: Do not be afraid your prayer has been heard
Mary: Do not be afraid, you have found favor with God.
Joseph: Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife
Shepherds: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all nations
Reasons people were afraid
1. Sight of angels
Angels had not been sighted in Israel for several hundred years. There has been an absence of this kind of communication from God for a long period of time. When these visits take place, they are very rare. Many thought that a visit from an angel came at the time of death and that it meant that you were about to die.
2. Season of silence
It is important to remember that there has not been a recorded Biblical miracle since the time of Daniel. The lion’s den is the last recorded work of God in the nation of Israel. The thinking is that the lack of miracles was part of a general silence by God. The nation of Israel was looking for God to begin doing something new in the lives of the people.
3. Spiritual darkness
Israel was dealing with major issues regarding spiritual life. There was an increasing influence of paganism in Israel due to the occupying forces from Rome. However, the larger problem was the spiritual control of the leadership. The Pharisees and Sadducees strictly controlled the spiritual climate of Israel. They sought to keep their political power and often sacrificed the well being of the people to retain their control.
4. Sense of despair
Israel was occupied by the armies of Rome and was under the control of a tyrant in King Herod. The reality is that Israel was facing some of the most difficult times in its history. The Romans tried to force their faith on the Jewish people the result was massive numbers of crucifixions. There were so many executed that no family in Israel was left untouched by the tragedy. Rome eventually stopped the persecution because they got tired of killing Jews.
John writes about the reality of fear in his first letter.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
The desire of God is not that we would live in fear but rather that we would walk by faith. The result of the Holy Spirit working in us reveals the fact that God’s love invades our lives. Love drives out fear. When we understand the depth of God’s love for us, we see that we do not need to fear. The moment God’s divine love takes over our lives, it takes away our fears.
Fear is a result of sin. We are afraid because we cannot stand in the presence of a holy God. God cannot and will not allow sin in His presence. The solution is simple, God gives us His Spirit to allow us to live a holy life. The perfect work of the Spirit is to change our hearts and give us His perfect love. Fear can only be driven from our hearts when it is replaced by God’s perfect love.
The Greek word phobos means to have fear, terror, fright or reverence. There is an understanding that fear is an absence of faith. There is a massive difference between living with fear and having the fear of the LORD. The fear of the LORD is a sense of awe, wonder or respect for God. Being afraid is reacting in an emotional manner and to possibly ignore faith. God calls us to live in an attitude of courage that helps us live in faith.