There is a message that weaves its way through the Christmas story. And Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds are not the only ones to have heard it. Jesus Himself repeats this greeting again and again—and in so doing brings us new courage even today.
In 2023 the Christmas Day divine service will be celebrated on the basis of the angel’s greeting to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”
Humanity needs security
May this Christmas greeting and the events associated with it bring us much comfort and hope! And this is something that is urgently needed in our time. For years now, the world has found itself in crisis mode. Even though many existing crises have not yet been overcome and many people are still affected by their consequences, new trouble spots are constantly flaring up for humanity. There is an urgent need for new perspectives. People need the certainty that God will not merely say: “Do not be afraid!” but rather that He will also back these words up with actions.
The light in the darkness
How frightened must Mary have been when the angel appeared to her and announced that she, of all people, would give birth to the Son of God! But the angel encouraged her with the words: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.” What incredible power lies in the favour and grace of God! What an emotional rollercoaster this must have been for Mary! And yet she trusted in the words of God, simply replying: “Let it be to me according to Your word.”
This decision to surrender her entire being to God obviously entailed its own problems. Her husband Joseph secretly thought about leaving his pregnant wife. After all, this child was not his. The relationship between Mary and Joseph was thus put to a severe test and even threatened to break apart entirely. “Do not be afraid,” said the angel to Joseph in a dream as he revealed God’s plan to him. Joseph stayed with Mary and gave the child the name Jesus after He was born.
And when Jesus was born as a light into the darkness of the world, the gospel of Luke tells us that the angel of God—full of light—appeared to the shepherds in the night and announced this message of great joy.
Jesus grants strength and encouragement
Even later on, during His public ministry, Jesus continued to encourage others. One man who really needed this encouragement was Simon Peter. Already at their first encounter, when Jesus allowed Peter and his companions to experience the great catch of fish, Jesus said to Simon: “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” Thereupon Peter began to follow Jesus.
Some time later, just before Peter dared to set foot on the water, he once again needed Jesus' encouragement. This was because the disciples, including Peter, did not recognise Him at first, and cried out in fear. Jesus identified Himself with the words: “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” It was only then that Peter went out to meet Him on the water.
This encouragement did not cease even after Christ’s crucifixion. When Jesus met up with the women after His resurrection and they fell down before Him, He raised them up with the words: “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” So it was that the disciples assembled in Galilee, and there received the Great Commission.
Human beings with a task to perform
There are over 120 Bible passages in which different human beings—among them Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, and Jeremiah—were greeted with these same four words. God gave all of these people a special task to perform, and encouraged them directly with these words: “Do not be afraid!”
Two things will quickly become clear to anyone who has ever studied the individual biographies of these individuals:
- they desperately needed this encouragement.
- God always followed up these words with deeds.
Paul should be mentioned as a final example. The Apostle had barely begun his activity in the city of Corinth—not an easy place to proclaim the gospel—when he was addressed by God: “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent!” And Paul remained in the city for eighteen months to proclaim the gospel and baptise the believers.
So it is that the Christmas message—“Do not be afraid!”—incorporates much more than a nostalgic look back to the day when the light of the world came to shine in the darkness. It provides us with the foundation we need in order to have an optimistic perspective of the future.
And Jesus has a clear task for all those who follow Him. He encourages each and every one of us just as He encouraged Isaiah: “Do not be afraid. I have called you by your name; you are Mine. I am with you and will remain with you. For I am your God, I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
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