Christmas is here! Well, pretty much, depending on when you’re reading this or listening to this. If I’m honest, this Christmas more than most has been full of anxiety for me. I have just had more on my plate than I have had in prior years, and there is too much to do and not enough time.
And yet, I know that Christmas is holiday that has a lot of purpose in my participation. There’s a huge difference between the knowledge of and experience through participation. We weren’t meant to be people who just know what Christmas is about, we are intended to participate and experience it.
It’s kind of like being pregnant. It’s one thing to have knowledge of how that works, and a completely different thing to experience and participate in the birth and life of a baby. And just like Christmas, there are some of us who can’t wait, and some of us who feel like we need more time, some who wish our circumstance was like someone else’s, and even some who wish the season wouldn’t happen at all. Emotions and stress might be high, relationships might be tense, memories might be overwhelming. But there is a truth when you’re pregnant: the baby is coming. And there’s nothing you can do about it. And for many of us, face fears in that unknown.
The truth is, Christmas is coming and there’s nothing I can do about it. Fears, anxiety, joy, expectation, and all.
And in our perception of a Christmas service, we put encounters with God into some expectation of joy or peace or warmth. We would hope that any attendee would feel those things when they arrive at our church and worship God through a Christmas service.
Yet we often see a different encounter with God in scripture as opposed to what we would expect encounters with God in a church service should be.
In fact, many scriptural accounts of those who encountered God were afraid.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Some people put the Fear of the Lord into some sort of old-school category of fire and brimstone. We justify the fear of the Lord as respect or awe. And yet, when we look at when people came in contact with God, they were terrified. Do we really think that fear at that moment was that they mustered up reverence or awe of God, or is actual fear a response to being in the presence of the Divine?
Now we don’t know the true balance of whether that fear is of God himself in his glory or whether it is of our own reflection upon ourselves in our sinful nature or our lack of control of the circumstance we find ourselves in. But we see the shepherds terrified, Isaiah say ‘woe is me’, even John fell at his feet like he was dead. Do we really believe that we would have the strength or courage to muster a different response to God and stand before him in all of his glory or would we not fall to our knees like those who have encountered God before us?
We often just want a more manageable God. We want a God that we can comprehend and control or put expectations on. We want a God who would make us feel warmth or instant peace or joy. When really, we believe in a God that is much more mighty and powerful than that.
If we were to encounter God in his glory today, would we be filled with the fears that we have about our own lives, our insecurities, our lack of hope in believing things can be different, or our loneliness? Would we fear what would happen to us given sin that exists in our lives? Would we fear God’s judgment on us, knowing the distance between his righteousness and our current circumstance? Is this closer to the response that those who have come before us in scripture had when they encountered God or had an angelic visitation?
And when those in scripture encountered God as they were filled with fear, God’s response was “Be Not Afraid.” “Fear not.” This is his response when we are filled with fear, he reminds us that he is for us and is with us and has the pathway of Hope that we need to come alive, to be healed, to experience new birth.
So amidst our fears, amidst the unknown of how or when we might encounter the Divine, we should know that the time is coming, whether we want it, expect it, or need more time. And when we encounter God, although we are filled with fear for all sorts of reasons, do we hear the message “Be Not Afraid.” “Fear Not.”
Should this not be the message of Hope that we tell from the mountains? Could we share the Gospel by reminding one another to “Be Not Afraid”? In the words of Scott Erickson, one of my favorite artists, “‘Be Not Afraid’ could be a legitimate substitution for ‘Merry Christmas.’”
What fears do you have about your current circumstance that you think would rise to the surface if you saw God face to face?
Do you see or understand God as a mighty, powerful force that would cause even the most “righteous” to fall down before him?
What does it change in your demeanor to know that although both fears of our circumstance and God in his glory are reconciled with his words, “Be Not Afraid”?
Merry Christmas – God is with us.