Because 2020 has been a very unusual, stressful, and fearful year for many, perhaps for many, Christmas will likely be the same. Traditionally, for much of the world, Christmas has been one of the most joyous times of the year. What many call “the spirit of Christmas” has been viewed as a time of good feelings, filled with wonder, warmth, love, and generous hearts. Hopefully, you will not lose those joys this 2020 season and plan to make the season a much-needed uplifting time in spite of the year’s stressful events.
Speaking of stressful events, a friend of mine was down with the COVID-19 virus, and he told me that, for the first time, he had to face his own mortality. I did some growing in that area myself. Facing the fear of death could be true for many, as our culture, along with the whole world, was fed a message of fear that drove lots of folks to withdraw into isolation and dread. Because of fear; businesses, schools, churches, entertainment centers, and sports events were shut down. People suffered a loss of needed income, a burdensome shift in education, and were denied the social value of faith gatherings, entertainments, sports events, and outings with friends. We’ve experienced political dissension, a divided nation, displays of anger acted out in destructive ways, and restrictions on our human rights. Now, the Christmas season has come, and the hard times are not yet over. Will this Christmas be a time of joy for you and family, or will depressing stress and fear continue to rob you of peace and well-being?
In recent years, it has been termed “politically correct” to change the season’s greetings to “Happy Holidays”. If that is your preferred greeting, will this year’s greetings and celebrations be less than “happy”? I hope not. Personally, I, along with others, favor sticking with “Merry Christmas”. There is great value in this greeting, especially if the name “Christ”, and the events surrounding his birth, are foremost in your thoughts. Concerning stress and fear, did you know there was a great deal of stress and fear during that first Christmas?
The message from God to all mankind was supposed to be a message of good news and great joy, and it was! “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior; who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Unfortunately, much stress and fear also accompanied this message. But instead of hearing the message “Be afraid and go into isolation, and stop your businesses, and mask up so you don’t catch it or give it to others”, the message that accompanied stress and fear was “Don’t be afraid” because God brings his good word for you, plus the resources you need to act rightly in the face of fear. Have the courage to trust him and do what he says, and know that he is with you to help you through your hard times.
During that first Christmas, shepherds who heard the good news were terribly frightened. We would be too, if never having experienced anything like it before, a strange being suddenly appeared to deliver a message. An angel, along with a message of good news and what to do about it, said, “Do not be afraid.” The shepherds were comforted, trusted God’s word, and went to see the Savior. When Mary, the mother of Jesus, received the message that she would be pregnant with the Christ child, she was also told, “Do not be afraid”. What did she have to be stressed and fearful about? For one thing, she could cower from the public gossip, shaming, and shunning she would get. Up until then, people thought she was a decent girl. More importantly, what would her beloved fiancé think? Would he still want to marry her? But Mary trusted God, believed what he said, and in spite of the difficulties and fears, welcomed God’s word as his will for her life. Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, when he heard about it, decided not to marry her, but to do all he could to make the best of a bad situation, and not cause her further humiliation or harm. God had to send the same message to him as to the others, “Do not be afraid”. God told him to take Mary as his wife. He married her, but more fear was ahead. The king was going to kill their baby. They had to run for their lives to another country and live in an unfamiliar place as best they could for what turned out to be two or more years. Their whole lives changed due to this birth of Jesus, and not all for the good. But they believed God overcame their fears, and courageously did what he said to do.
Fear is both good and bad. It is good as a warning of danger, telling us that something needs to be done to overcome our fearful situation. Fear is bad if it immobilizes us and keeps us from doing something we need to do. If fear of death is what is causing us not to act, then we must be rid of our fear of death. Jesus said he was the resurrection and the life, believe in him and you will never die. Faith in such a hope would certainly take that fear away. With the absence of such a fear, we can do the good and right thing. That’s the tricky thing, knowing what is the good, wise, and right thing to do in times of danger, not only for ourselves, for the good of others as well. This brings us to another issue. The right thing to do is not always the same for everyone. We need wisdom to know what is good and right for differing people in differing situations.
What’s the point of Christmas? It is the joy that Jesus came to be with us and to be our savior. Having Jesus in your life does not guarantee a trouble-free life. In this troubled world, we can’t keep stressful and fearful events from happening. Fear is a natural response when our lives are threatened with bad news or an unexpected change of events. But Jesus is the good news, he is the Savior for all who will follow him. He has a word for us in whatever our situation, “Take courage, it is I, don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). Why not? Because he has the tools we need to help us handle times of fear. He is our source of selfless love that risks danger, even the loss of our lives, in order to help ourselves and those who need our help. He is the source of hope that guarantees all things will work out for good, for those who love him. He is the object of faith that enables us to act in love and in hope, for he has the wisdom and power that will see us through. He is the source of peace that disarms the fears that would keep us from doing the good and right thing in the face of danger. He is the wisdom that lets us know the right thing to do in each fearful situation, and how to manage the situation in the right way to meet the differing circumstances of the people involved. He truly is our good news and joy, if only we had the humility to recognize our need for him, and the desire to want him to be our leader and savior. Because of Jesus, our lives can be filled with wonder, warmth, love, and generous hearts. Christmas is meant to bring joy and peace in the midst of fear, to all of us.