Summary: The three fears found in the Christmas story can be brought to heel by the gift of hope.
Christmas: Where Fear Meets Hope
Charles Dickens featured three ghosts in his classical story A Christmas Carol: The Ghost of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future.
Today I’m not going to talk about the three ghosts of Christmas -- but I do want share with you about the three fears of Christmas.
The three fears of Christmas tend to frighten and haunt people more than the literary phantoms that appeared to Ebenezer Scrooge so long ago.
Fear was a big part of Christ’s first coming, and fear will play a major role at the eve of His second coming.
However, fear is never forced upon us! We aren’t victims, that is, people without choices. In fact, we have a choice to make today -- between fear and hope!
At the end of Luke’s Gospel Jesus predicts that in the last days people’s hearts will fail them for fear.
Jesus’ warning reads...
“Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
But in the next breath He offers a word of hope...
“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:26, 28).
So the choice is before us -- hope or fear, fear or hope.
Phillips Brooks penned a seemingly contradictory line in his carol “O, Little Town Of Bethlehem”: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Strange as it may seem, I think he got it right, don’t you? Christmas is about dirt and divinity; about both hope and fear.
Where the land and sea meet there’s a lot of foam, mire, jetsam, and flotsam. Where God kissed earth, at Bethlehem, hopes and fears existed (and still exist) side-by-side.
In another of his novels, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens begins with the oft-quoted words...
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way...”
Again, the author nails it. Hope and fear, expectation and terror, co-exist in a state of tension at all times, but especially at Christmas.
Of course, during this month of celebration we want to believe that throughout the holidays our problems, anxieties, and even fears cease to exist.
Christmas is supposed to be “different”.
The death angel should stop visiting cities, villages and hamlets around the world. Funerals should be on stand-by until after the New Year.
No one should get a “pink slip” at work during December.
The word “divorce” shouldn’t to be mentioned in any home throughout Advent.
Every emergency room should be empty -- because no one need be injured over the holidays!
I pause to ask you: Is this Christmas as you know it where -- you and I live -- in the real world? I think not.
Christmas is not about the absence of fear or tough circumstances but, rather, about the presence of the Savior.
As another hymn says, “Jesus, the Name that charms our fears...”
So, fear is a legitimate emotion of the Christmas season, but it need not control us as long as hope in God stands nearby. With that in mind let’s consider the Three Fears of Christmas. Turn to Luke 1...
The first fear emerges from the shadows when an angel appears to Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth, a couple whose golden marriage had produced no child.
They had long since given up on the idea of being parents because they were both too old to have a baby. By this time they had turned what thye’d hoped would be their child’s nursery into a storage room. All hope of being parents was gone.
But though Old Zach was a bit crippled with age he insisted on taking his turn as a priest. On one rather non-descript day while he is serving at the temple...
"... an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John."
It is in this text that we encounter the first fear of Christmas…
Fear #1: The Fear of the Unexpected (1:11-13)
Have you ever had someone jump out from behind a bush on a dark night and yell “Boo!”? For a moment you were startled, right? What happened? You encountered the unexpected – and it produced fear, maybe even terror.