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Responding to the Wonder of Christmas:
Part 1 – Fear

December 27, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 2:8-10 (NRSV)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

Focus

If God is doing something unexpected in your life, if you’re sensing the call of God to something that makes you afraid, don’t be ashamed of your fearful response to God. What you’re feeling is fairly common and understandable. But don’t remain in your fear. Hear for yourself the message of the angel, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

Today’s devotion is part of the series Responding to the Wonder of Christmas. It’s also part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

Merry Christmas!

Today is the fourth day of Christmas in the Christian calendar. Though Christmas Day has passed, many followers of Jesus around the world continue to celebrate his birth for twelve days.

During this season of Christmas, I’d like to continue to reflect with you on some implications of Jesus’s birth. I’m going to do this by paying close attention to various responses to God’s astounding activity associated with the birth of God’s own Son. We see at least seven responses in Luke’s account of what happened right after Jesus was born, events associated with the shepherds.

Immediately after reporting that Jesus was born and “laid in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn,” Luke shifts his focus to some nearby shepherds. He writes, “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). While they were out somewhere doing their nightly duty, all of a sudden the shepherds were surprised by an “angel of the Lord” who stood before them, shining with “the glory of the Lord” (2:9).

The shepherds responded to the angel with fear, and just moderate alarm. Our translation reads, “and they were terrified” (Luke 2:9). The Greek reads more literally, “they were afraid with great fear” (2:9). People in the Bible often respond to the unexpected visit of an angel by being afraid. You’ll recall in Luke 1 that when an angel shocked Zechariah in the temple, “he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him” (1:12).

This response, and that of the shepherds, makes perfect sense to me. If you’ve ever been in a dark place in which you encountered someone unexpected, you’ve probably experienced fear. Year ago, I went into a large storeroom at the church where I worked. It was completely dark in that room, and the light switch was several feet away. As I walked toward the switch, I literally ran into one of my staff colleagues who was leaving the storeroom. Neither of us knew the other was there until we bumped shoulders. He and I were shocked and terrified. I could feel the hair on my neck and head standing up. Now, if John had also been glowing supernaturally, I expect my fear would have been even more extreme.

Sometimes we can feel fear when God “shows up” in unexpected ways. For the shepherds, this came in the form of an angelic visit. For us, it might be the quiet voice of God’s Spirit calling us to a new job or urging us to mend a broken relationship. If we love the comfort of our lives, we might rightly fear that following Jesus could be challenging and even uncomfortable in some ways. It’s not uncommon for people to feel fear when encountering the presence and call of God. I’ve felt it. I imagine you have too.

If you know this sort of fear, if you’re feeling it even now, you need to hear the first words of the angel to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10). Why shouldn’t you be afraid? Because God is merciful and kind. God is the author of all good things. God seeks to help you, not to hurt you. Moreover, the good news that the angel had for the shepherds is also good news for you. God has come in Jesus the Savior, not only to deliver the Jewish people, but to save all people, including you. Remember, the angel brought “good news of great joy for all the people” (2:10).

If God is doing something unexpected in your life, if you’re sensing the call of God to something that makes you afraid, don’t be ashamed of your fearful response to God. What you’re feeling is fairly common and understandable. But don’t remain in your fear. Hear for yourself the message of the angel, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

Reflect

How do you think you would have responded to the appearance of the angel in Luke 2:9-10?

Have you ever sensed God calling you to something, in response to which you felt fear? If so, what did you do with that fear?

In what ways do you need to have confidence today in God’s mercy and goodness to you?

Act

If you’re hesitating in any way in response to God’s guidance in your life, talk with a wise friend, your small group, or your spiritual director about this.

Pray

Gracious God, we continue to thank you for the wonder of Christmas. Thank you for coming to us in Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.

Thank you for sending your angel to the shepherds with good news. Thank you for Luke’s honest portrayal of their response. Thank you for the angel’s reassurance, “Do not be afraid.”

Lord, sometimes I am afraid of what you’re doing in my life. I know you’re good and loving. I really do. But there are times when the lure of the familiar and the comfort of safety make me hesitate to respond to you with faithful obedience. Help me, Lord, when I’m afraid of what you’re doing in my life. May I trust you more fully and even joyfully. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Christmas 1943: “I Wish You the Grace of Christ”


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