Fear not

When I was a kid, I was always afraid to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. Year after year I had the same nightmare. I don’t remember the dream itself, but even today, I remember how terrified I was. I guess I was too wound up, or afraid Santa would pass our house by if I weren’t asleep.

We rarely focus on this—it doesn’t come out in children’s Christmas pageants—but the first Christmas began in terror for unsuspecting shepherds. Luke 2:9 says, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”

The old King James translation says they were “sore afraid.”

The Greek word for fear, phobia, is used twice in this sentence, first as a verb and then as a noun, along with the adjective mega, meaning “great.” 

Literally, the shepherds were “greatly afraid, fearful, mega.”

Isn’t Christmas supposed to be about warm feelings?

And what were they afraid of? It could not have been because they forgot to buy batteries, or because their crazy uncle showed up unannounced.

Luke said it was God’s glory. The Divine Essence on display in the night sky. The manifestation of the excellence and power of God. They saw God for who God really was, and they realized who they were in comparison.

That’s the primal fear, the fear beneath all other fears. 

To overcome that fear, God had to do something that no other religion can comprehend: God was born for you.

God became vulnerable. God came in need of you. 

When you take the Christ child into your arms, God shines the light of his glory on you. God sees you for who you really are and finds you beautiful.

“Fear not,” says the God of Love. “I was born for you.”

Get ready

Do you spend a lot of time and effort getting ready for the holidays?

OK, this year, maybe not so much. Maybe this year we take a step back from the excess.

But most of us pour ourselves into getting ready when we’re expecting guests. I remember my relatives would not only clean up and decorate for Christmas, somehow the prospect of having Christmas visitors led them to do major remodeling, new paint, carpet, curtains, and more.

On the other hand, I had a relative who was embarrassed at the thought of having visitors. Her home was lovely. It was modest, but it was furnished with nice things. She just never thought it was good enough, so visitors rarely got invited.

What if you got a call from the White House that the President was coming? Not only would you pour yourself into getting ready, the FBI would do a background check on you. You’d be in for a thorough examination.

The more important the guest, the more things have to be just right.

We all do this. In the Christmas song, even the “Little Drummer Boy” wondered if what he had was fit for a king.

But what if there is something more to getting ready for visitors than just avoiding embarrassment?

What if our unease points to something deeper?

John the Baptist knew that someone truly special was coming, someone unlike anyone who’d come before. If we knew what John knew, we’d do more than clean house.

The King of Kings and Lord of Lords is coming.

Let every heart prepare him room.

Comfort, comfort

The order could not have come at a worse time.

Closing restaurants and businesses may slow the spread of the virus, but closings also spread unemployment. The suffering of the sick and the heartache of their caregivers is met by the despair of those who’ve lost dreams and livelihoods. 

This week I was on a Zoom meeting with my old debate team friends at the Air Force Academy from 50 years ago. Our revered Coach Whitlock, now 86, told us how the pandemic put an end to his teaching career after 56 years.

We got to tell Coach what he meant to us.

We’d all gone on to successful careers in the military, government, and business. Without any doubt, our speech and debate experience made all the difference.

So we lamented that the people ordering shutdowns never learned what we did.

It’s not enough to be right. To be convincing, you need to be clear and speak to the heart.

This Sunday is our Lessons and Carols service, where we get to hear great music, sing our faith, and let loose of some of our grief and frustrations.

One song we’ll be singing is Comfort, Comfort Now My People. Its words were first spoken to exiles by the Prophet Isaiah in the 6th century BCE.

A German pastor set the words to music about 500 years ago, using a French tune that’s now 600-years-old. The version in our hymnal was translated into English about 150 years ago.

I was imagining how this great song has comforted grieving people over the centuries.

Music is a gift from God, so it’s vital we sing during times like this.

Even if our leaders don’t know how to speak to our hearts, God still does.

Comfort, comfort now my people;

Speak of peace, so says our God.

Comfort those who sit in darkness,

Mourning under sorrow’s load.

Cry out to Jerusalem

Of the peace that waits for them;

Tell her that her sins I cover

And her warfare now is over.


Can you think of times in your life when you experience pure, unadulterated joy?

One of those times for me was when I graduated from the Air Force Academy. The annual picture of graduates tossing their hats in the air, while the Thunderbirds zoom over, surely is one of the iconic symbols of joy in our county.

I got to experience that with Jana, my folks, and my sister. After four, long years filled with opportunity, challenge, homesickness, and so much more, it was pure joy.

Jana and I got married six weeks later.

Our boys came along eight and ten years later, respectively.

Pure joy.

I hope you’ve had a few moments in your life like that.  

The Bible has a number of famous songs of joy that give us insight into ultimate joy. One of the greatest is Mary’s Song in Luke 1:46-55, expressing the joy of Mary as she starts to grasp what the baby she’s carrying will do: Right every wrong. End every injustice. Satisfy every hunger. And not just for Mary, but for everyone, everywhere. 


Pure cosmic joy.

But what if our greatest joys in this life are just fleeting glimpses of the joy God has prepared for us?

That’s the claim of Christmas. Christ was born for this.