Do Not Be Afraid
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah” (Luke 1:13 ESV). And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary” (Luke 1:30 ESV). An angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph} in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear” (Matthew 1:20 ESV) And the angel said to [the shepherds], “Fear not” (Luke 2:10 ESV). You might laugh (or roll your eyes) when I tell you this, but I’ll be honest: when I finished up writing about faith for my Advent devotional and was ready to move on to a week about joy, I sighed and thought to myself, “This isn’t going to be easy.” I have a melancholy soul that is often shredded with anxiety. Joy does not come naturally to me, and a few minutes ago, when I was standing in the kitchen talking to Matt, I told him, “It’s not like I am exactly the poster child for joy.” Some might say that the opposite of joy is sadness, but I believe that the opposite of joy is fear. When I am trapped in the sickening, haunting space of anxiety and fear, there is no space for joy. My heart beats fast, panic frantically claws at my body and soul, and I see no way out of bottomless despair. But the most frequent command in the Bible is this: Do not be afraid. When the two Marys arrived at the tomb, only to find it empty, they had to have felt great fear. Their hearts must have beat fast. Panic must have frantically clawed at their bodies and souls. They must have seen no way out of bottomless despair. But an angel appeared to them and said, “Do not be afraid” (Mark 16:6 NLV). How beautiful, how comforting, that the two foundational events of our faith – Jesus’ birth and resurrection – are bookended with the command, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. I will never forget one Easter Sunday when I walked into church feeling a bit of despair, and the pastor preached this very message. At the end of the service, I walked forward to receive communion. The pastor tore off a piece of bread, handed it to me, looked me in the eye, and said, “Jill, do not be afraid. Christ is risen.” I walked back to my seat in tears, drowning in joy instead of fear. Here we are at the beginning of the story, Jesus’ birth. Over and over, the main characters in this story are told, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid.” If we had been a shepherd or a visitor to the tomb, I believe the angel would also say to us, “Do not be afraid.” And in that absence of fear, we would be filled with joy. I believe Jesus has placed us in His story. He says to us, “Do not be afraid,” and in that absence of fear we, too, can be filled with joy. God, so often we are full of fear, but today we reach for the joy infused in your often-repeated command: “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid.” Please replace our cavernous fear with the fullness of your joy. Amen.