The Birth Announcement of Jesus Christ: Do Not Be Afraid

Reading: Luke 1:26–38 The angel speaks to Mary

Mary’s Fears

“The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary.’”

What was Mary afraid of?

For one thing, a powerful angel had just appeared to her. That was a little unsettling for a young woman of humble position.

But what the angel said to her was even more unsettling. He said that she was going to have a baby boy. And judging by her response after the angel finished his speech, I suspect that her eyes glazed over right there. A baby? She wasn’t even married yet, and she had not slept with a man. How was she going to have a baby? The angel seemed unfazed by her question, and went on to say a lot more strange things.

At this point, all sorts of things must have been racing through Mary’s mind. Unwed mothers did not fare well in those days. In fact, it could be a death sentence. And what would her fiancé Joseph say? Most likely he would reject her, she would be disgraced, and her life would be as good as over.

And what was all that stuff the angel said about the power of the Most High overshadowing her, and her son being called Son of God? Even if that wasn’t the craziest thing she’d ever heard, why would God pick her, of all people?

On that last question, her answer told the whole story: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Whatever her whirling thoughts may have been, whatever the fears of her heart, she was ready and willing to serve the Lord however the Lord called her to serve—even if it seemed strange, incomprehensible, and highly risky.

It was no accident that God chose Mary to be the earthly mother of Jesus Christ.

Each one of us has a Mary within us as well—a small, humble, not very powerful part of us that is open to the Lord’s birth into our heart.

It’s a scary thought. We’re ordinary people. And yet the angel’s announcement comes to us, too. There is going to be a birth within us. A powerful birth of God’s divine presence that threatens to overturn our entire life if we accept it. That birth would make us illegitimate and even crazy in the eyes of the world. The world today values science, reason, wealth, and power. What place is there for dreamy-eyed people who think that God is present and active in their heart? In the hard realities of life, rejection and disgrace awaits those who get too serious about all that God and spirit stuff.

And yet, the Mary within us is ready and willing to accept God’s birth into our life, however unlikely it may seem, and whatever the risks may be.

And that is why we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

 

Reading: Matthew 1:18–25 The angel speaks to Joseph

Joseph’s Fears

“An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid . . .’”

What was Joseph afraid of?

Well, if I’d just let the angel finish his sentence . . . . “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

Yeah, that.

Before the angel got to him, Joseph had already discovered that his wife was pregnant. And he wasn’t the father. According to ancient Jewish law he could have had her stoned to death—though with the Romans in charge, executions could be tricky. At minimum, he could publicly disgrace her. But he didn’t want to do that. No, he’d divorce her quietly. The situation was already bad enough. There was already a hole in his heart. And he’d be a local laughingstock among the men he worked with and worked for every day. No need to make things worse.

That’s when the angel of the Lord appeared to him to put his fears to rest. Mary was neither promiscuous nor and adulteress, the angel told him. The father of the child in her womb was not another man. No, it was the Holy Spirit—God’s own presence—that had caused Mary to conceive. Therefore the son she would bear would be called “God with us.”

And Joseph, like Mary, accepted the angel’s message and took Mary as his wife, but abstained from sexual relations with her until she had given birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.

It was no accident that God chose Joseph to be the earthly father—sort of a stepfather—to Jesus Christ.

And each of us also has a Joseph within us. Each of us has a humble and righteous part of our mind that is willing to accept, almost as a foster child, what God is bringing to birth in our heart.

This child is not really ours. It’s not our brainchild. If we had our way, we’d just go about our life, carry out our plans, make our way in the world and, we hope, achieve some level of success and satisfaction in what we are able to accomplish in society.

But God has a different plan for us. Our thoughts, our ideas, our plans for our life are nowhere near big enough, nowhere near deep enough, nowhere near high enough. God has a greater plan. God’s plan involves more than just setting our mind to achieving some level of success in this world.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But the birth of the divine presence into our heart, and now into our thinking mind, means that life is going to be more complicated. We can’t simply accept the material values that the world presses on us. And we can’t go forward with pride as people of the world, in control of our destiny. We may have to weather criticism and contempt from our more worldly and hard-headed brothers and sisters for our idealistic notions of God and spirit and higher goals in life.

And yet, a part of our mind is ready for that. A part of our mind knows that no matter how successful we are in this world, it will not give us lasting happiness, still less joy. A part of us knows that there’s more to life—that only God and spirit will give our pilgrimage here on earth true meaning.

And that is why we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

 

Reading: Luke 2:8–20 The shepherds learn of Jesus’ birth

The Shepherds’ Fears

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.’”

What were the shepherds afraid of?

Wouldn’t you be terrified if you were out in the fields one night and suddenly there was a man standing in front of you blazing with radiant light? We read about it every year at Christmas, and even we would be plenty jumpy if it actually happened to us. Think of the reaction of those shepherds, who had never heard of such thing!

But beyond that, consider the position it put them in. Two thousand years of romanticizing shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night makes it easy to forget that shepherds were not the cream of the crop of Jewish culture at the time of the Roman Empire. Shepherds were smelly, dirty, poor people who would not be welcome in the comfortable homes of the well-to-do city folk. And the powerful religious leaders didn’t take kindly to worthless riff-raff who put on airs and said that they’d been visited by angels and had gotten messages from God.

For those shepherds, it would have been much easier and safer just to keep it all to themselves, and act as if it had never happened.

But the experience of being visited by angels was too powerful for that. It’s not every day that you hear choirs of angels singing God’s praises!

And so the shepherds went to see this baby that the angel had told them about. If it hadn’t been for the angels, they would have thought nothing of some newborn lying in a feeding trough in the stable area of a home. But those angels . . . . Yes, this was a powerful birth, of a baby who was destined to become the savior of their people, as prophesied in the ancient scriptures. And there, at the bottom of the social ladder, were the simple, humble people who were willing to be moved by the good news.

It was no accident that the angels announced Jesus’ birth to a group of lowborn shepherds.

We, too, have within us a group of simple shepherds who, even if the news is terrifying at first, are willing not only to go see the newborn Christ child, but also to spread the news far and wide to all who will listen to the amazing tale.

“Terrified” may not be too strong a word for what we might feel at the thought of being open, unabashed Christians in an increasingly secularized society. Yes, our society has deep roots in Christianity. We’re allowed to mouth pious words about Christmas and Easter and our Christian heritage.

But actually living like a Christian? It can endanger our livelihood to have moral and ethical standards in a working world that may pressure us to cut corners and engage in unethical and illegal practices. And what about standing against the tide of prejudice and hatred against those whom our society sees as enemies? What about taking unpopular positions in any setting simply because God tells us that we must live from moral and spiritual principles, and do what is right even if it is not what is most advantageous and expedient?

When the birth of Jesus Christ within us moves from our heart through our head and into our hands—into our daily actions—that is where we must face and overcome our greatest fears.

Still, it is also a wonderful and joyous life.

Like the shepherds, once we have experienced the wonder of the Lord’s birth, we must go back to the grind of our daily life and duties. Yet we feel new life and new joy from within. Our life has meaning. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We face our daily tasks with a new sense of purpose, and a new peace in our soul.

And that is why we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in All About God, The Bible Re-Viewed
2 comments on “The Birth Announcement of Jesus Christ: Do Not Be Afraid
  1. Richard Neer says:

    Hi Lee,

    Well worded and presented. A nice read for introspection.

    Rich

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