given on December 14, 2014
Maybe the idea of fears at Christmas time is unsettling, but mentally check the picture of the little kids who line up to see Santa. Parents are planning the annual photo op and kids want to make sure Santa has their Christmas list. Then fear sets in:
- The photo op turns into pictures of screaming kids squirming to get off Santa’s lap,
- Babies are crying and faces are turning bright red,
- Parents are embarrassed, or they are laughing,
- Toddlers suddenly see Santa as a stranger and a danger warning clicks in their heads,
- Feet go into a kicking mode and Santa’s face shows signs of pain, and
- Youngsters suddenly panic wondering if they are on the naughty or the nice list.
Fears do invade Christmas, and this list is only from the point of view of the families lining up in the Santa lines. Fears have always surrounded Christmas.
In fact, Christmas is the result of fear and this fear does not mean respect as defined by so many sources in translating scripture. Frequently the phrase “Fear the Lord, your God” is used, especially in the Old Testament. For today’s Bible readers, fear is an emotional response that usually comes with a fight or flight response. Early translations used the word fear that we know understand to mean respect or honor God.
Today, though, the fears of Christmas are a reality that we tend to shove aside or to ignore because they do not fit the public images of Christmas. Yet, the fear God had that his people would not remain faithful is the very root of today’s Christmas.
Times were horrific in God’s view. His people were living among pagans and unfaithful people caught up in the hubbub of living. God was not the center of the people’s lives. The prophets had issued warnings, but the people were not making the life changes. Sending God’s son was a last ditch effort, as we might say today.
God’s fear caused him to join his people on earth in the form of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, from the line of David, the Son of God, Mary’s and Joseph’s son, a cousin to John the Baptist. Every prophecy was fulfilled with this birth.
Does our world, right now, have fears this Christmas? Absolutely. In fact, the fears of children lining up to see Santa is just a light-hearted news clip of what God must be seeing. Fear exists in God’s eyes as well as the eyes of so many people anywhere on this globe: killings, stealing, unethical behaviors, environmental disasters, health challenges, and more. Finding Christmas joy is tough.
Yet, consider the fears we ourselves have as Christmas Day nears. Certainly we have that sense of anxiety that we have missed someone from the Christmas card list, or maybe it is that we have forgotten to include someone on the invitation list, or that the gift we bought is all-wrong. These are real fears, true, but they are not the ones that cause God to hear our heartfelt pain.
Christmas season creates a set of fears for men and women, adults and children that as Christians we need to see. We are to serve as God’s hands and feet while we live our faith out loud. Jesus is the reason for the season; are we living our faith in a manner that we can help others not to be afraid?
The littlest child can be afraid. The basic needs of life are food, shelter and clothing. Without them, life fails. The littlest children who depend on parents to provide those basic needs may be afraid each day that there is not food, that they are cold, or that there is no place to protect from nature’s elements whether rain or snow, heat or cold. What have we done to make sure these children of God have no fears?
Children in school are often afraid here at Christmas, too. Living in a social world created by the culture surrounding them creates fear: Fear of exclusion from social groups, of being bullied, of school failure, of poor athletic performance, and of poverty where gifts under a tree simply cannot be provided. For school-aged children, even the tweens and the teens, these are very real fears and certainly can make them dread Christmas. Are we dong all that we can do to make sure our young people have nothing to fear?
Even our native president Harry S. Truman knew how damaging fear is. Living by the principle that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Truman led this country to recover from World War II. Adults have fears that may include the same things as children; yet, adult fears often take much more complicated solutions.
Granted homelessness is a very real condition as is social isolation from mental illness and addictions and the loneliness from the loss of a spouse, child or friend. Adult fears multiply due to an enormous range of issues and Christians are just as susceptible as any human. God fears that his children may not remain faithful led to the birth of Jesus Christ, the reason for the season. Are we doing whatever we can to share God’s word: to love one another?
Christmas is filled with fears, but these fears can all be faced with the love of Christ. This is the third Sunday in Advent and the third candle representing joy can be extinguished when fear takes over. As Christians, the gifts we give should fuel the joy of living. We know that hope flickers whenever we show others God’s love. We tell others of God’s promise to take care of us now and throughout eternity making hope’s flicker a flame.
Are we listening to Scripture’s words? Today’s reading from I Thessalonians tells us how to live in order to avoid developing fears:
“19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.”
Following the principles from the Bible is a practice that can keep fears from developing. It is not easy, but it does work. In fact, the other tool we each need to find is prayer: The same scripture tells us how to use it, too:
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
This third week of Advent, let us take the hope and the promise of Christmas and turn it into joy that warms us from the inside to the outside. Let the joy shine like the sun. Let the fears disappear like shadows on a moonless night. God’s promise of the Messiah came true so fears can turn into joy. The gifts we give do not have to be wrapped up and placed under a Christmas tree. The gift of prayer should never be wrapped up and put away; it should always remain open. Prayer is the biggest most powerful gift we can give to anybody, anytime, anywhere. Use it to calm the fears of self and others not only during the Christmas season, but continually:
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
The joy of Christmas will shine through you so all may see Christ’s light shine year round.
Dear Father of Christmas,
Thank you for giving us prayer to use
Whenever we need to fight our own fears
Or fears of family, friends, and foes.
Hear our prayer this Advent morning,
Asking that the fears of young and old everywhere
Be replaced with joy in loving one another.
Help us to use our spiritual gifts
To keep your Christmas story alive
And to serve as your loving arms for those afraid.
Thank you, too, for giving us the gift of your Son
Who taught us how to love one another
And replaced our fears with joy unending. –Amen