Fear, as many an atheist has pointed out, is one basis for religion.
Judeo-Christian scripture unabashedly confirms this: “Fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10).
But scripture also emphasizes that the faithful have nothing else to fear.
The birth of Christ, the occasion commemorated by more than a billion Christians in this season, gives reason to erase our fears, to replace them with joy and courage. From the very first hints of the Nativity, the Book records encouragement to see God and his purposes in this light.
“Do not be afraid,” an angel told shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ (Messiah, the Anointed One) the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
Even as divine preparations were being made known to humans before the birth of Jesus, the same encouragement was forthcoming.
Mary, the eventual mother of Jesus, must have been astonished by the sight of an angel. Immediately after his greeting, the angel Gabriel told the troubled young virgin, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God” (Luke 2:30).
When he learned of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph must have been terrorized by the prospect of what might happen to Mary if word got out of her apparent immorality. At the same time, he feared for his own honor.
Again, the message of Christmas is not a message of fear.
“[A]n 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’” (Matthew 1:20-21).
Is there a message for people of today in the command, “Do not be afraid”?
In a time and place of unparalleled peace and safety, we reinforce our fears with nightly images of murder and mayhem. With fewer dread diseases and better health care than ever before, we fear growing old.
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4), Jesus said.
If we have possessions, we may fear robbery, rust, rot or recession. Again, the author of Christianity offers a counterculture remedy:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:32-34).
What better way is there to cast off fear than sacrificing our time, energy and wealth meeting the real needs of others instead of fretting over minutiae?
What better time could there be than Christmas to start?
That’s the spirit.