Don't Be Afraid!
Christmas greetings everyone,
This year Christmas feels a little weird. Last year was definitely a weird year. But this year is even weirder still, even compared with last year. Everyone seems to be afraid. But they are not all afraid of the same thing. Their fears are specific to their life situation. Satan and the world come at us in a way that is specific to our own environment, making our life situations seem even scarier than we could believe possible. Satan is an insidious opponent. Unrelenting and resourceful, mean and evil, he comes at us in groups and as individuals. The groups are our families and our churches and our communities. Satan does this because he knows that if he can drive a wedge between us and the Lord, we will lose our focus on God. One of the primary methods of Satan is through the use of fear. We are very susceptible to this method of attack.
Just think of all the different types of commercials that you see that use fear in the marketing message? How about all the corporate news channels that we watch, each story edited to trigger the greatest fear possible. All of this makes us jumpy and less rational in our day to day lives. It also makes us less spiritual. It does lessen our focus on God. It does hinder our relationship with Jesus. It makes us inwardly focused and not outwardly focused. We are focused more on me and mine, less on others. I’ve noticed this in every ministry that I’m involved in. Less people are coming to services, less people are volunteering, less people are interested in God. They’re all afraid.
God knew that fear would always be a problem for us. That’s why it says “do not fear” in the Bible 365 times. God gives us a daily reminder to not fear. Let’s pick up our Christmas message today in the book of Matthew.
Now the book of Matthew begins differently from any of the other books in the New Testament. It begins with a detailed tracing of Jesus’ lineage, all the way back to Abraham. Not just back to David, so as to irrefutably prove the authenticity of all the hundreds of prophetic Old Testament scriptures, but all the way back to Father Abraham.
To Matthew and his readers during this era, Jesus being Jewish was very important. We take it for granted today. But at this time it was very significant that the prophecy of the Messiah and Jesus’ life and death were understood together.
So we will begin today, after this genealogy of Jesus is completed. Matthew 1:18,
“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” There is one big problem revealed here, but you have to dig to get it. Nobody else but Mary knew about the Holy Spirit at this point in time. Add to that the fact that sexual relations were strictly forbidden during the Jewish betrothal period, so no hanky panky between Mary and Joseph was happening that might explain Mary’s pregnancy. This put Joseph in a pickle of a situation. Mary was now pregnant. Joseph knew this and he also knew that he was not the father. This meant that she had become pregnant and the man that she was betrothed to was not the father. Legally, this was a serious situation. She could be stoned to death for her perceived sin of adultery. Matthew 1:19, “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Joseph here embodies the positive qualities of the Jewish tradition, where the law is a proven way of life with God. Many a Pharisee would have made a spectacle out of Mary that would have led directly to her death. This was not Joseph though. He was in a faithful relationship with God and his Jewish community, and he followed the Law of Moses. That law demanded that he, in the least, divorce Mary for her unfaithfulness. Stop and think for a second about Mary. Remember, she is a young adolescent, probably 12 -15 years old. What is she thinking? While Joseph is considering this quiet divorce, God sends an angel to Joseph in a dream. Matthew 1:20-23, “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All of this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet (Isaiah): ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel-which means, ‘God with us’.’ Let’s now think of Joseph’s situation here. Let’s empathize with Joseph for a second. Righteous and good-hearted Joseph, everything that he knew and understood, everything that he believed, for his entire life: his faith and religion, are all being challenged by this angel that he saw in a dream. This was all a dream. Now, let’s insert ourselves into this scenario of Matthew’s Christmas witness from Joseph’s perspective. What is God nudging you to do, this Christmas, maybe in a similar dreamlike way. What is God calling you, encouraging you, like Joseph, to do differently? All of us, just like Joseph did in his life, all of us have patterns and behaviors at Christmas that are set in stone. We call these things traditions. Face it, we look forward to them, some have been passed down for generations through our families. It’s our comfort zone, it’s how we flow through Christmas.Our churches also have these traditions. These are not bad, but they are habits, slowly ingrained into our family and church behavior over the years. We just do things this way at Christmastime. This year, is God encouraging you to do something different? Then, I ask you this: What things are we, like Joseph, wishing to dismiss quietly? What things do we wish would just go away? Things that may make us fearful. Things that force upon us a decision we wish we could avoid. What are you afraid of this Christmas? “Do not be afraid”, the angel said, “to take Mary home as your wife …” As I said at the beginning today, throughout the Bible, God gives us this message. “Do not be afraid Abraham to leave your homeland.” “Do not be afraid Moses to go to Pharaoh.” “Do not be afraid David, for the Lord is your shepherd.” “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found grace with God.” Do not be afraid Joseph, to take Mary home as your wife…” What is God speaking to you right now, speaking to your heart? Is there something there that God is telling you not to fear? Whatever it is, do it. Just do it. Emmanuel, God is with us. God is with us. God is with you, do not be afraid. We all know what happens with Joseph. Matthew 1:24-25, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him and he took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave him a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” Do not be afraid! Merry Christmas! Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. Blessings, Thad Brown Opportunity House and Harmony UMC