Peace is one of those beautiful words everyone likes to use at Christmas. Both the believer and the unbeliever have a concept of peace that is comforting and positive. The word is probably the most heavily used word in Christmas cards and public displays. Even our Jewish friends publicize this word from the Hebrew language, shalom. The word is perceived as non-religious and non-threatening to a sensitive society that is overly cautious of offending someone.
Obviously, peace fits comfortably in the Christmas celebration. Luke reports the words of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, KJV).
But there is another important word in the narrative of Christ’s birth which we avoid. I’ve never seen it on a Christmas card or a public display. It is hardly ever mentioned, except in the reading of the Christmas story. The word is “fear.” It is addressed many times in the story of the nativity.
Mary must have been terrified when she learned she was with child. The fear of damage to her reputation, the fear of violating community standards and the fear of God – all of these must have paralyzed her soul. But God sent an angel to address her fear, saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.
You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31).
Joseph had his own set of fears. The news of Mary’s condition immediately brought to mind the accusations he would face, the charges of personal failure, his standing in the community and the fear of God’s retribution.
But God did not leave his fears unanswered. God sent a message in a dream. “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).
A group of shepherds were faithfully doing their job, expecting nothing out of the ordinary, when an angel showed up, surrounded by a very bright light. Fear of the supernatural overcame them. This heavenly phenomenon took them completely off guard. Raised as devout Jews, their first reaction was fear and awe of a holy God.
But God, had a word for them. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. 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 the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
Fear can be a good thing. In each of these cases fear had the potential to overwhelm them. From that point God took their hand and walked them down the road to peace. The fear of God is the only way to experience the peace of God.
The psalmist said, “Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways” (Psalm 128:1, NIV). Fearing God is a vital ingredient to walking in God’s ways.
The fear of God is not a bad thing. It gives perspective to all of life. He is eternal; I am temporal. He is perfect; I am a sinner. He is almighty; I am weak. He is judge; I am accountable. A healthy respect for Him is an unending reminder that we are always in His presence – all is sacred.
A fear of God is appropriate in His presence. What other response makes sense?
It keeps a check on our heart and mind. It challenges our actions. It forces us to evaluate our direction.
Ultimately, godly fear will introduce us to a “peace that surpasses all understanding.” We don’t have to remain in a state of fear. This is one of the core messages of the Christmas story.
Jesus brought to the world a peace we had never known. His message is clear, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27, NIV).
His peace is a gift. It is his Christmas gift to all who fear God to the extent that we accept, believe and receive God’s plan – not the world’s shallow plan. While searching for peace, our atheistic culture is working hard to instill an element of fear in the hearts of Christians. I can’t count the number of news reports about opposition to caroling, to nativity scenes, to the use of the word “Christ,” and other acts of intimidation toward Christians.
How do we respond? Fear not man! Fear God! His peace is the longing of those who oppose Him. Pray that each one of them will experience the fear of God, so they can come to the peace of God. Merry Christmas to you.