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.
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 call him John.
26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,
27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
Have you ever taken note of how many of the characters of the Christmas story dealt with fear in their lives? Times were very uncertain back then. Times are very uncertain now. There is no shortage of things that could go “wrong” in a person’s life. A focus on those “could be’s” causes people to be trapped and paralyzed by fear.
Listen to this short list of phobias that are out there today. These are all very real, even if they might seem outlandish to someone who doesn’t have them:
Peladophobia: fear of baldness and bald people. (Picture of me and my husband)
Be afraid. Be very afraid! Clearly, I don’t have this phobia!
Here are some more: Aerophobia: fear of drafts. Porphyrophobia: fear of the color purple. Chaetophobia: fear of hairy people. Levophobia: fear of objects on the left side of the body. Dextrophobia: fear of objects on the right side of the body. Auroraphobia: fear of the northern lights. Calyprophobia: fear of obscure meanings. Thalassophobia: fear of being seated. Stabisbasiphobia: fear of standing and walking. Odontophobia: fear of teeth. Graphophobia: fear of writing in public. And the best one of all – Phobophobia: fear of being afraid. (http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/illustrations-about-phobias.asp)
Do you know what do you call an irrational fear of Santa Claus? “CLAUStrophobia.” Get it? J
Fear can alter how we process information or present ourselves in certain situations. We cannot be who God created us to be when we are afraid and we cannot do what God wants us to do and experience what God wants us to experience when we are afraid. I want to suggest to you reasons we don’t have to be afraid that are based on the circumstances surrounding characters in the Christmas story.
First, we don’t have to fear other people when God is leading us.
In Matthew 1, Joseph found out Mary was pregnant. He knew it wasn’t his child. The only logical explanation was that Mary had cheated on him. He considered walking away and leaving her to raise her child alone. But we read in verse 20 that after he had mulled that plan over 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.
Why would Joseph have been afraid to take Mary as his wife? He would have been afraid of people’s reactions. The whispers, the comments, the stares, the judgment of other people who either thought Joseph and Mary hadn’t waited for marriage to consummate their relationship or who thought Joseph was a fool for overlooking what they believed was Mary’s sin–it all would have been very real and overwhelming. Towns were small back then. News traveled fast. People have a way of making up their minds and not changing them, even if they are wrong in the first place. Would he and Mary be accepted in their hometown? Would Jesus suffer the labels of others and maybe even bullying as a result of how He came into the world? All kinds of fears would have swirled through Joseph’s mind.
How often do we let the fear of what other people think keep us from something God is prompting us to do? Do we shrink back in expressing ourselves in worship out of fear of being looked at and labeled? Do we neglect coming to an altar of prayer because we think someone will gain a bad opinion of us if we do? Do we shy away from witnessing for Christ because we are afraid of turning people off? Perhaps we think they will distance themselves from us or talk about us behind our backs.
You must accept that if you are a Christian there is much more to fear about NOT following God’s promptings than there is about what the world thinks of you if you do! God disciplines those who are disobedient. Those who are disobedient live unfruitful spiritual lives. Those who live unfruitful lives are in danger of spiritual death. I absolutely believe it 100%.
When we accept Christ as our personal Savior, we live to please just one Person. We live for Christ alone. The voice of the crowd is traded for the voice of the Shepherd, and we can trust He always knows what He is doing. We can believe He is working out a plan for His glory and our good. We can obey God with confidence and trust Him to work things out. We don’t have to explain everything or make people understand why we choose to live the way we do. We can just live for God and let our consistent witness and the way God works in our lives speak the truth.
Over time, those who gossiped about Joseph and Mary and those who labeled Jesus an illegitimate son, they would have to deal with their words as they watched Jesus grow into One who did miracles. They would have to revisit their thinking as they heard Jesus teach. Scripture says Jesus taught as One who had authority. What would the critics think when the evidence of His life pointed to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah? You don’t turn water into wine and raise the dead without some special skills!
Life becomes simplified when we realize we only have to please and follow ONE Person! Galatians 1:10 “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” You will never be at peace if you are trying to live your life to please people. Pleasing people will mean meeting their expectations and not everyone’s expectations of what you should do and be and say will align with God’s will for your life. If you are living in fear of other people’s opinions, perhaps you haven’t settled who you are supposed to be living for.
Matthew 1:19 tells us that Joseph was a righteous man. That means he was focused more on doing what was right than he was on his reputation. As heartbroken as he was about the thought of Mary betraying him, he was still concerned for her. Yet after the angel explained things to him, he willingly took on the stigma that was part of being God’s man. The angel told Joseph what to name Jesus and by naming him, Joseph was legally adopting Him as his own. He was willing to be associated with Jesus as His earthly father even though others would think poorly of him for doing so.
How about you? Does it have to be convenient for you in order for you to follow the plans of God for your life? Do your friends have to approve of your level of commitment to Christ? Do you have to follow at a distance for fear others will think you are too religious or fanatical? Or have you found the simplicity and absence of fear that comes from following Christ alone?
Second, we don’t have to fear because God answers prayer.
Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, had been unable to have a child, and we learn from Luke 1:13 that having a child was something Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed about. Given the fact that Zechariah and Elizabeth were beyond child bearing years, they had probably given up praying for a child decades before, but God had not given up on answering their prayer. They would have a miracle child in their old age. Elizabeth would birth John the Baptist, the cousin and forerunner to Jesus.
When the angel showed up to tell Zechariah the news the angel’s message included these words in Luke 1:13, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. Reassurance was to come to Zechariah as he recalled that God was and is a prayer-answering God.
Luke 1 tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth were “upright in the sight of God and blameless.” They were devout in their faith and trust in God. The fact that years had passed and they hadn’t received what they had requested didn’t cause them to be jaded and turn their back on God. They didn’t quit seeking God. They didn’t stop following His commands. Zechariah didn’t leave the priesthood because God didn’t “come through” the way they wanted Him to. They didn’t become bitter and have a sour grapes attitude. And I believe all of that was the result of the fact that they were prayerful people and prayer gave them the grace or strength to accept their circumstances while they continued to believe God could change them.
You see, when you invest in praying about your concerns and fears, you break their power in your life. When you run to the stronghold of prayer you break the stronghold of fear. Prayer becomes a gift to us, a gift from God, so that we can unburden our souls, so that we can rest our minds and so that we can relax physically and enjoy every moment, even the difficult ones. It was difficult for Zechariah and Elizabeth to continue to serve God and bear the social stigma that was very real for childless couples in those days, and yet they did it with grace and peace because they had been praying about it.
Fear is the common human response to things we can’t understand or don’t want to experience. We see it from the “get go” in the Garden of Eden when Adam tells God in Genesis 3:10 he was afraid of encountering God. Adam feared what would happen to him because he had sinned against God. The very last thing God ever wanted was us to be afraid of Him! He is the solution for everything we face and if fear keeps us from Him, we are doomed to destruction on every level. Satan, however, wants to keep us separated from God so he uses fear to keep us from seeking God in prayer.
Prayer is the vehicle that takes us to God where we can get help. Zechariah was reminded that the God he had trusted all those years, the God he had prayed to, was the God who answered prayers!
We worry and are anxious about “could be’s,” and we worry over the future when it looks like things are going wrong in the natural. But because Christ has come and the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts by faith, we don’t have to be afraid. We can “Cast all our cares upon Him because He cares for us,” I Peter 5:7. We can have the “Peace of God which passes understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4:6. Those things come to us after we have prayed. Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” That’s when the peace of God will come. That’s when the contentment will come even if the answer does not.
3. We don’t have to fear because we possess the favor of God.
Listen again to the encounter between the angel and Mary: The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”
Favor with God is a great thing! It’s a huge thing. Jesus had it. Scripture says “Jesus grew in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)
Favor is often translated as “grace.” Grace is the measure or gift of God in every circumstance which will give you supernatural strength and endurance and peace in spite of your circumstances. If you look at it that way, you are “indestructible” when you possess the favor of God because God’s grace is always sufficient or more than enough. So, no matter what you walk through, it can’t overtake or destroy you or keep you from making forward progress because God will see you through. That’s why you don’t have to be afraid of any diagnosis or difficulty. God and His favor are with you!
God’s favor will give you every opportunity to know God and walk in His power and strength. Your obedience will determine how uninterrupted the favor of God will be!
I love this verse: Psalm 5:12, “For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” You don’t have to be afraid because God’s favor is shielding your life! There is no place that is beyond where the favor of God can reach and there is no person who can overturn God’s favor on your life.
Joseph had favor on his life when he was in prison (Genesis 39:21) and as a result of that favor even though he was a prisoner he was put in charge of the prison! Someone this morning needs to cry out to the Lord and ask for His favor to be made manifest in their prison! Don’t be afraid in your confinement. Be full of faith! God can elevate you right where you are.
Favor can come in the form of a financial blessing. In Exodus 12:36 we read how the Israelites asked the Egyptians for silver, gold, and clothing, and the Egyptians gave it to them! That is crazy! The Egyptians were the captors of the Israelites. Basically, the slaves asked the masters for riches and the masters gave it to them! That is the favor of God, friends! Someone this morning needs to cry out to the Lord and ask for His favor to be made manifest in their finances. Don’t be afraid about your financial future. Be full of faith. God can turn your financial picture around, but in the meantime, remember your security must never be in earthly riches, but in God alone!
Favor can come in the form of people that God will use to bless you, support you, encourage you, and teach you. In Ruth 2, Ruth talked about the favor she had with Boaz and how he took care of her, fed her and eventually married her. Don’t isolate yourself when you are struggling. Isolation will bring fear. Isolation will reinforce your fears. Reach out and let the favor of God come to you through brothers and sisters in Christ.
Favor includes the miracles of God as we see the Virgin Birth was and is a miracle. There hasn’t been another virgin birth since Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit and that miracle manifested in her body simply because of God’s favor. If you need a miracle this morning, ask that God’s favor be made manifest in a miracle in your life!
The favor of God can impact every relationship you have even those that are brief or for a specific period of time. We read in 1 Samuel 2:26 “And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.” Just like Jesus, Samuel grew in favor with the LORD AND with men. You don’t have to be afraid of your boss or someone at school because God is with you and He can cause you to have favor with others.
Romans 8:31 … If God is for us, who can be against us? God is on your side! And guess what? He always wins!
Finally, we don’t have to fear eternity because God has given us good news to believe and share.
In Luke 2:10 the angels told the shepherds they didn’t have to be afraid because of the good news they had to share. The Good News was that the Savior had been born and since it was good news for all people, no one would ever have to be afraid again.
Shepherds were people who especially needed some good news. Good things rarely happened to an ancient shepherd. When I read about ancient shepherds I think of Charlie Brown. You know how nothing ever seemed to go right for Charlie Brown and how he wasn’t the cool kid even though he was the star in all of the Peanuts movies? Things were always tougher on Charlie Brown than on other people. It was that way for the shepherds for sure. Shepherds were actually outcasts. Religious people were not allowed to buy anything from them. Shepherds weren’t allowed to be witnesses in a court of law because no one believed a shepherd would tell the truth. They were “ceremonially unclean” because of their work. Shepherds were despised.
And then came the Good News! People who weren’t even worthy to visit the temple were visited by heaven itself. The angels announced that salvation was available to everyone, even the lowliest of people. All outcasts are welcome into God’s family and the ground at the foot of the cross is level! All people can have peace with God, favor with God, answers from God and be given direction by God as long as they take in the Good News for themselves.
I am absolutely not afraid to die. If my next breath was my last I know where I would be and it would be better than any place I could experience in this earthly life. I have a security that is an anchor for my soul, and my husband and children possess the same peace.
We all know bad things can happen to us in the earthly realm. The recent shooting in Connecticut took our nation’s breath away. There are seemingly random accidents, senseless killings, petty wars, violent crime . . . there is a lot a person could be afraid of. But ultimately I know where I am going and that keeps me in perfect peace. I belong to Jesus and nothing or no one can snatch me out of His hands.
I am not afraid of other people’s opinions of me. I am not afraid that this is all a hoax and I am praying to a God who doesn’t exist or who doesn’t hear and answer prayers. I am not afraid of life’s circumstances because I possess God’s favor and I am not afraid to go into eternity when the day comes because I have been saved by God’s ultimate favor, His unmerited favor, His great grace given to me in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. I am afraid. NOT!