Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Christmas Challenge: Day Seven

The Challenge

What do people have in their Christmas celebrations, and their lives in general, that is a greater expression of “good news of great joy”[1] than what Jesus the Christ did for us through his coming into the world, laying down his life in love, and securing an eternal victory over sin and death?

The “Fear Not” Side of Joy
This post has taken quite a while to write, partly because of colds, partly because of the busyness of the season, and partly because of the topic: FEAR!

When something scary happens to us, our brains trigger a fight-or-flight response that is aimed at energizing us to react as quickly as possible for our own safety.

So, what about when the scary thing is something God is doing, and our brains begin priming us to fight-or-flight whatever is happening? Are we going to fight God in what he is doing just because its first appearance is overwhelmingly terrifying? Are we going to take flight from the alarming thing that is taking place and miss out on whatever God has in mind?

This is of huge significance because what we call the Christmas story had elements that had initially terrified the people who walked through them. In the case of the message that was “good news of great joy”, it didn’t feel that way to the shepherds who first heard this announcement. When the quiet evening was interrupted by one solitary angel of the Lord, the response of the shepherds was, “they were filled with great fear.”[2] That means that the fight-or-flight program was immediately activated to energize them to fight or run for their own safety.

What we need to understand about this evening surprise is that the shepherds had no means of looking at the situation any differently than they did. They could not help that it came across to them as something terrifying. A dark and quiet night; a sudden burst of the glory of the Lord into their nighttime world; an angel greeting them as though he had something on his mind, and "terrifying" was the first thing that came to mind.

However, if that’s the way they remained, their brains would wire them to think of angelic visitations in only one way, as something terrifying that required fight or flight. Of course, there is no way for a human being to fight an angel of the Lord and win. And there is nowhere to hide from an angel of the Lord so flight is a hopeless option as well.

So now we see the compassion and grace of God as the angel’s first words to these poor shepherds were, “fear not!” The angel wanted the shepherds to come out of the fear that was wiring their brains to run from the angelic expressions of God’s work, and to open their minds to receive something that was diametrically opposite to what their fears were telling them.

Instead of the fear, the angel of the Lord had a far different message, “behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”[3] Same angel; opposite belief. Instead of a fear-based reaction, God wanted them to have a joy-based response. He had good news they would miss if their brains successfully programmed them to be afraid of anything that came through angels.

What do sinners need to hear when God is coming into their world to save them? “Fear not!” [4]
In any encounter with God, the natural inclination of the sinful human heart is to feel guilt over our sin, shame because of the nature of what we have done, and fear of what God will do in just condemnation of our disobedience to his word.
When I speak of the “fear not” associated with Christmas, I’m not talking about the hardened and rebellious heart. Rather, I’m addressing those who know there is a God who is just as the Bible describes him. They are fully aware that they have violated all that is good, and right, and pure. These sinners cannot escape the guilt, shame, and fear associated with a man-centered view of dealing with sin, and so they would never imagine the Son of God coming into their sinful world without them feeling the fear-based emotions that surround their failures.

It is into this sinful world Jesus came that particular evening. It was to sinful shepherds the angel appeared and announced the good news of great joy. To sinners throughout the whole world and all the rest of time, the announcement remains, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”[5]         

There is no other joy in the world that demolishes our fear. There are delusional counterfeits that leave people unafraid of God and what his judgment will soon express against their sin. However, there is no other good news of great joy that so replaces our fear that even our brains will switch what they are doing to feel the joy welling up within our souls.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Luke 2:10
[2] Luke 2:9
[3] Luke 2:10
[4] There is a second coming of God into the world that will not involve saving the world, but applying the just condemnation for sin. In that case, the fear will be entirely warranted. In the meantime, God still calls us to the salvation available because of Jesus’ first coming into the world.
[5] Luke 2:11

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