"DO NOT BE AFRAID"

LUKE 1:26-38

DECEMBER 1, 2013

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            We live in an age of fear.  For years we have been waging a war on terror, but terrorism is not the only thing we fear.  I did a Google search for the word "fear," and I uncovered some fascinating articles about people and fear.  I discovered the top three fears people have.  They are spiders, snakes and heights ... in that order.  My greatest fear, however, did not make the top ten list of fears.  I am claustrophobic.  I greatly dislike enclosed spaces.  I often avoid elevators and if we are being seated at a booth at a restaurant and there are four of us with two of us sitting on both sides of the booth, I will sit on the outside not the inside.  I also discovered in my Google search that George Washington's greatest fear was being buried alive, and Napoleon's greatest fear was the fear of cats, and Richard Nixon's greatest fear was the fear of hospitals. 

            Unfortunately, people sometimes play on our fears.  We have fear-mongering television preachers and fear-mongering politicians, and alarmist radio talk show hosts, and alarmist weather reporters.  Remember our first snow storm we had ten days ago?  The weather reporters alarmist forecasts caused many to run to the grocery store to stock up on supplies in case wind gusts led to life-threatening two inch snow drifts. 

            Fears, we all have them, and this morning we turn our attention to someone who experienced something called "theophobia," the fear of angels, at least she did for a moment.  Turn with me to Luke 1:26 and let's read about Mary's knee-knocking encounter with an angel.

 

            In the sixth month ...

 

            By the way, that's the sixth month of Mary's cousin Elizabeth's pregnancy.  Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist.

 

            In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgins name was Mary. And he came to her and said, Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.

 

            By the way, this is one of two "annunciation" stories about Jesus in the Bible.  We have one here and another in Matthew's gospel, but the annunciation story in Matthew's gospel involves Joseph.  This one involves Mary.

 

            But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Mary said to the angel, How can this be, since I am a virgin? The angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God. Then Mary said, Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Then the angel departed from her.

 

            "Do not be afraid!"  The same words came to Joseph in a dream.  The same words came to John the Baptist's father, Zechariah, when an angel encountered him in the Temple and told him of his wife's pregnancy.   The same word will come nine months later to shepherds in a field keeping watch over their flocks by night.  This angelic greeting comes with incredible regularity throughout the Advent story, the same greeting, the same command, repeated over and over again: "Do not be afraid!"

            And the logical, sensible, responsible, first century or twenty-first century response is, "You've got to be kidding!"  After all, Mary had every reason to be afraid.

            I'd have been frightened if I were Mary.  Tradition tells us that she was very young, in her early teens.  She, herself, tells the angel that she has never been with a man.  To live in her time and walk the streets in her condition meant one of three things could happen ... none of them good.  She could be shamed.  She could be shunned.  Or worse, she could be stoned.  I am told that there are some teenage girls who, today, wear an unwed pregnancy as a badge of honor although I don't personally know any.   All I know is that Mary would have worn her pregnancy as a badge of disgrace had she not been told otherwise.

            For a moment, let's put ourselves in the place of an unwed teenager who hears the word, "You're going to have a baby."  Imagine the emotions, the shock, the outright fear.  Giving birth is no easy thing, no matter how many Lamaze or Bradley classes you take.  But there is something even more troubling than that.  This is to be no ordinary pregnancy or no ordinary baby. This baby is to be the Son of God!  How would you like to take on that kind of surrogate parenting responsibility?

            And if she's still listening, if she hasn't already tuned the angel out, this child is coming for nothing less than taking over the throne of David, challenging the powers that be, confronting the values and standards of his day, ushering in the kingdom of God.  All of a sudden this angelic visitation doesn't look and sound so much like a sentimental Hallmark greeting or a Currier and Ives Christmas.  It sounds like the overwhelming challenge of a lifetime.  She had every right to be afraid, and so she was.

            "Do not be afraid."  It is the most common command in the Bible, heard nearly every time God's word comes to his people.  From wandering Old Testament Israelites to doubting New Testament disciples, come the words,  "Do not be afraid."  The angel Gabriel, however, gives Mary two reasons not to go off the deep end, a couple of reasons to curb her fear.

            Reason #1: Do not be afraid, Mary, because The Lord is with you. 

            It's so simple, so profound. "Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you."   The antidote to fear begins with faith in the God of the ages and the conviction that God is actively involved in the lives of his people.

            There was a story years ago in the Canadian version of the Readers Digest of a large moose that wandered into a residential area in Calgary, Canada.  The moose ended up on the lawn of a woman named Lorna Cade.  A Fish and Wildlife officer was dispatched to try to coax the magnificent animal back into the wild.  After two hours of absolutely no progress, the officer finally shot the moose with a tranquilizer dart.  The moose bolted down a lane and eventually collapsed on another nearby lawn.

            The reporters who had been following this event interviewed the woman at the house where the moose collapsed.  They asked her what she thought about the moose which had passed out on her lawn. Im surprised, she answered, but not as surprised as my husband will be.  Hes out moose hunting.

            Her husband had gone out looking for moose and a large moose had come to him.

            That is the message of Christmas.  While we spend time seeking after God, God comes to us in the babe of Bethlehem.  God comes to be with us.  Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you.  Don't go off the deep end, Mary.  You are not alone in this.  The Lord is with you.

            A woman visited a tourist town and stopped to see a cathedral.  As she stared at the beautiful stained-glass windows, a feeling of peace washed over her.  She hadn't felt that way since childhood.  Kneeling before the Christmas scene, she studied the figure of the Christ child whose arms were outstretched.  She wished with all her heart that those arms were reaching out to her.  She remembered Christmases of long ago when her family attended church together.  Afterward friends invited her family to breakfast.  They would return home from sharing fun and laughter, and then exchange gifts.  They sipped hot chocolate and listened to Christmas Carols.  The peace, love and warmth now seemed far away.  Christmas was lonely and cold.  She hadn't gone to church in many years after rebelling as a young woman.  The pain and the bitterness of remembering seared her heart.   As tears fell, she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.  A kindly priest looked down at her.  "Father, I'm so miserable," she blurted.  She told him the story of her rebellion and bitterness, her loneliness, and her fear of going back to church.  He replied, "The church is for suffering people.  Jesus has already forgiven you."

            Those words rang in her head long after the priest had left her.  She felt the bitterness slipping away.  She knew that the Christ child was with her. 

            "Do not be afraid, Mary, because The Lord is with you."  But that's not all.  The angel gives her one more reason not to be afraid.  "Do not be afraid, Mary, because I'll tell you how the story ends. 

            Verse 31.  "You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

            Remember the story about the guy who hated his wife's cat?  He hated that cat with a vengeance, but his wife loved the cat.  One day, the cat disappeared.  His wife was grief-stricken, so the man put an ad in the newspaper: "$500 reward for missing cat."  His friend saw the ad and said to him: "Wow!  A $500 reward on the cat that you hated ... that's pretty risky, isn't it?"  With a sly, knowing twinkle in his eye, the man responded: "It's not so risky when you know what you know."

            Likewise, life is not so scary when you know what you know, and it all came to pass, just at the angel had promised Mary.

            And what about us?  Well, we know the Savior's story, his message of love and his incredible compassion and courage.

            We know that one day God's kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

            We know that one day every will knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

            Life is not so scary when we know you are not alone and life is not so scary when we know the end of the story.