You know what Christmas is about. A very special baby was born. That special baby is God himself, the Son of the Father. It’s not about Santa is coming to town, it’s about God is coming to town. Sometimes God seems far off, but he came down to be with us. Isn’t he kind?
But when it happened, everyone was scared stiff, frightened to death, the whole bunch: Zacharias, Mary, the shepherds. Why? Remember way back when Adam and Eve were with God in Eden. God gave them the garden to care for, then in the cool of the evening, Adam and God would walk back and forth together, just talking things over. God Almighty, how about showing me a tornado one more time? Or, tell me again how that works on the corn stalk, when the pollen drifts down from the tassel and hits the silk, and that makes the corn? Or the really big question: God I Am, when I talk with Eve it feels like talking to you, do I have that right?
Those talks were just over the top. But one evening Adam didn’t show up. He was hiding from God. Why? He had sinned, that’s why, when he ate the fruit God told him not to eat. God had to ask him, where are you, Adam? Then Adam came, and God gave him the news: Adam, you and Eve are out of here, right now. I stay in the garden and you’ll be outside. You won’t forget, there will be a angel with a sword of fire keeping you out.
So it made some sense that Adam hid. But that didn’t make things any better. We know about that ourselves. When you’ve sinned against your spouse, and haven’t worked it through far enough to admit it and to ask his or her forgiveness, then it feels like it would be a good plan to watch some football on TV, instead of all that soul-searching. You’re a hider too, but it never helps, does it?
The priest Zacharias was in the temple, and the angel appeared. Zacharias was gripped with fear, the Bible says. But the angel said, don’t be afraid. The angel came to Mary and told her she was highly favoured among women, and Mary was greatly troubled, really bent out of shape. But the angel said, don’t be afraid. The shepherds were in the fields and the Glory of the Lord shone all around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said, don’t be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy for all the people.
God himself in his beloved Son has come, and you don’t need to be afraid. That’s what Christmas is about. But maybe you’ve got so used to Christmas, that you wonder why anyone would ever even think about being afraid. Doesn’t it sound weird, to imagine being afraid because God is coming?
But just listen to what the prophet Amos said: Amos 5:18-20. So why would anyone in his right mind want God to come? You think your life is full of trouble now, just wait till God shows up and you’ll see what real trouble is. You’re running away from a lion now but the bear is going to get you. When God comes, when his patience with you runs out, if you think you can get out of it again with fake tears and whimpering, then you know: there will never be a speck of light in your life again, it’ll all be pitch dark, only and always pitch dark. That’s why we don’t want him to come into our lives. We know he’s the Lord but we don’t care. We know he’s true to himself, but that we play games with who we are. If we saw that, if we really knew what our hearts look like, if we really knew what he is like, we’d want to hide too, wouldn’t we?
But God is in charge after all, and he came at Christmas, and it wasn’t pitch dark. It was blazing light all around, it was the Glory. Christmas isn’t a time for hiding, it’s a time for singing along with the angels. We deserve the bear, but he gives us the Glory. God says to everyone, you included, don’t be afraid but rejoice instead.
God himself is truly here, there in the manger. That’s what the angel said to the shepherds: this is my Sign, when you find the baby in the manger all wrapped up from head to toe. God has given signs before. He sent the Flood to cover the earth. When he gave Moses his Law, Sinai shook with thunder and lightning, and everyone was warned, don’t even think of touching that mountain. Signs like that show you what God is really like, Holy all the way through, not to be taken for granted or messed with.
But what does the Manger Sign show us? Just look at God’s Son trying to sleep in a rough box manger, on straw and half-eaten grain, wrapped up from head to toe so he can’t move a muscle. What do you see there? Think over what Jesus said, if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father. So look in that little box again, and what do you see now? Do you see God Almighty, and also the God of unfailing love? Do you see the one who came to be like us, so he could totally feel with us as our mediator? Do you see the one unable to move as he would be on the Cross, all wrapped up as he would be in the tomb?
We worship you, Beloved Baby Jesus! We adore you, our Lord and our Deliverer! But how shall we adore you? What did Zechariah say: Luke 1:67-75. What can that mean, that you are called to serve the Lord, the holy one, without fear? Can you put wheels on that?
Start with knowing who you are: a child of the Almighty. You have been a slave to fear, the fear the Devil worked in you. But now you have the Holy Spirit and the Spirit has you; he gives you the spirit of sonship, and you cry out: Almighty God, you are my Daddy, my Abba (Rom. 8:15). Eden is coming back, and you can freely chat with God about anything. All the angel said was, don’t be afraid. But the Holy Spirit says, enjoy Daddy!
Go now to the depths of your fear, and learn from Hebrews 2:15 that ‘by his death he might destroy the one having the power of death the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.’ Do you think if you work out enough you’ve got death beaten? You know better, don’t you?
Death is the worst, body and soul being pulled apart, but more than that, you and God pulled apart, you and other people pulled apart too. Remember C. S. Lewis’s Great Divorce? You know what heaven is: we all live together in an enormous high-rise, just as high as it is wide and long. But Lewis reminds us that hell is where people want to be totally alone, because they can’t stand anyone at all. So in hell they keep moving apart. Heaven is high-rise, hell is suburban sprawl.
So how are you with God? How are you with people? Do you delight in being really honest, relational, genuine? That’s your prep for heaven, start enjoying heaven now! God is your Father, you belong, his promises to you are true. You never have to wonder, what does he really think of me? Because of Christmas you feast on his fatherly love.
The hiding, the doubt, the fear is ending. Listen again to those words to Mary and the shepherds: fear not. Those beautiful words are for you. Eden is back. The Glory is Light, pushing back the darkness.
Think about 1 Corinthians 16:10: ‘see that Timothy has nothing to fear.’ You belong to the body of Jesus Christ, and God calls you to join him in shining the Glory. As you encourage and bless each other, you drive back the pitch-dark darkness and shine the light for each other. That’s what God’s family is like. Take care of Timothy, won’t you?
What now? You could confess your sin. Why not? There’s no fear there anymore, is there? You could ask the Lord to show you your sin? You could talk to each other about Jesus Christ, Baby and King? Share the Glory around? Why not?
God came once, and he made the difference. He’s coming for you again. Read Revelation 1:10-18. Sound familiar? Don’t be afraid; Jesus the Glory will be back. The even bigger Christmas is coming! Joy to the world, the Lord will come!
Dr D. Clair Davis is Emeritus Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.
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