"Fear Nots" Scripture Reading:
The 'Fear Nots' of Scriptures (21.2 MB)
Released December, 2010
The 'Fear Nots' of Scripture – by Ivan Schwenn
- “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.
But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John’.” [Luke 1:11-13].
The Christmas story would lose much of it’s appeal were it not for the trauma created by God’s intervention into human history. This dynamic element of the birth of Christ can be easily lost to persons who don’t take the time to carefully analyze each element of Christ’s birth. It becomes too easy for us who are so far detached from that historic moment, to assume that those persons, who figured prominently in Christ’s birth, had some special spiritual preparation.
The facts, in reality, seem clear to bear out the opposite perspective. While we can rightly assume that there existed an anticipation of the coming Messiah, there is no evidence that any of those persons directly involved with Christ’s birth, were personally prepared. The Scriptural evidence is that they were taken by surprise and questioned in thought and word, what was told to take place in their lives. There is clearly recorded that fear was often in the forefront of their thoughts as they were encountered by this divine intrusion.
One has only to note the fact that in the first two chapters of Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, Zechariah, Mary and the Shepherds are each exhorted to “…fear not…”. [see Luke 1:13, 30; and 2:10].
In Matthew, the only other Gospel that gives attention to Jesus’ birth, Joseph is told not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. [Matt. 1:20]. When one adds to this that fact that the angelic presence standing at the right side of the Altar of Incense drove fear into the heart of Zechariah; that the same angelic presence caused Mary to be deeply troubled; that the appearance of an angelic host to the shepherds caused them to be terrified; then there can be little doubt that these honored recipients of the ‘good news’ of the Messiah’s arrival, initially struck them with great fear or dread.
Could it be that one of the reasons modern day society has so little appreciation of the true meaning of Christmas is because we have lost this fear factor? Likewise, could it be that one of the reasons the Church has such a ‘casual’ approach to Jesus’ birth is that it, too, has lost this sense of awe and wonder at the fact that: “…the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”? [John 1:14]. Has Jesus just become another human person to us? Has His coming lost it’s uniqueness? If so, can we recapture the right sense of awe and reverence that ought to be a part of our Christmas spirit? I would like to think so.
The one thing that strikes me with regard to the references where fear came upon those, to who the angels of heaven first appeared, is that God goes to great lengths to make sure that this fear does not become a paralyzing factor to one’s faith. It would seem credible to assume that fear would be a natural reaction to such sudden appearances of divine beings, but that the last thing God desires is that this fear so disables us, that we cannot fulfill His design or purpose. Rather, the Scripture accounts reveal that each of these figures, upon being told not to be afraid, discovered they could respond to God’s message and obey His instructions; to function as normal human beings. Thus Zechariah went home to tell Elizabeth the good news and they became parents of John at an age that only a miracle could explain. Mary humbly accepted the responsibility of becoming pregnant by divine means, knowing full well how impossible it would be to tell her Jewish parents, her neighbors, and, yes, her fiancée what God was doing with her body. Joseph was able to accept what he could not comprehend and take Mary as his wife and protect her from public scandal. And lastly, the shepherds were enabled to put aside their fear and taunts by those to whom the angels had not appeared, and became privileged to be the first, outside the holy family, to witness the Christ Child.
Thus, there is a basis to say that ‘fear’ can be a wholesome element in our spiritual development. Rather than being a paralyzing factor that would impede us from obedience, it can be that which enables us to enter into and maintain an intimate relationship with God. In this spirit, let us engage in a systematic study of how ‘fear’ is addressed and handled in Scripture to the end that our personal spiritual life may be enlarged as it is released by divine grace.