Week 1, November 26 – Zechariah – Luke 1:5-25
God had promised his special nation Israel that he would send his messiah, a savior, THE Savior. David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Micah, and Zechariah record prophetic promises about Jesus’ heritage, birth, life, identity, power, message, death, burial, and resurrection. But by the time Jesus came, God had been silent for 400 years. There had been no new prophetic words or messages for four centuries and many generations. The faithful among the Israelites waited for the prophecies to be fulfilled. But after such a long wait it must have been a surprise when God broke the silence, not through prophets, but with angels, announcing that the prophecies were being fulfilled – NOW!!
The resplendent glory of angels must be scary, because one of the first phrases out of angels’ mouths always seems to be “Do not fear!” As the Christmas story unfolds we hear God’s angels repeating “Fear not!” “Don’t be afraid.”
As we begin our relationship with Jesus, grow that relationship, and become increasingly aware of his presence in our lives, he continues to speak to us, “Do not fear!” Just like us, the characters in the Christmas Story had many fears, real and imagined. God spoke through his angels to replace those fears with hope, confidence, trust, courage, and joy!
This week let’s hear about Zechariah’s angel encounter – Luke 1:5-25
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,[a] of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple.22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Why was Zechariah afraid? He was fulfilling his priestly duty in the temple. Usually this was a quiet affair, a reverent moment asking God’s forgiveness for the nation’s sins. There had been some times when a corrupt priest was struck dead in God’s presence. The passage tells us that Zechariah was righteous, but he probably wondered if he had somehow offended God and was about to experience God’s wrath. Or he may have just been frightened by the sheer magnificence of the angel and the shock of his unexpected appearance. Either way he was scared. And the angel’s promise that he and his wife would have a child who would have such a great role in preparing the way for the messiah didn’t calm his fear much. How ridiculous that his barren and elderly wife would get pregnant!
Sometimes we forget the things we’ve prayed for. We think it’s too late, too unlikely, not humanly possible, and we lose hope. If God were to answer our prayers, we’d be surprised and scared too!
Are there areas of your life where God is calling you to keep praying, keep hoping, and keep believing? Are there places where fear keeps you from even looking for his answers? Let’s keep alive a fearless hope in the God who answers our prayers.
Week 2, December 3 – Mary – Luke 1:26-38
Angels show up a lot in the Christmas story. And every time, the first thing they say is, “Don’t be afraid!” When the angel appeared to Mary, a young single teenager, and told her she’d be the mother of the messiah, she had a lot to be afraid of. What would people think? How would she cope? How would her fiance react? Let’s read the story and see where she went with her fears.
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Mary was young, and it’s easy to dismiss her as naive. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish faith from folly. Certainly she was alarmed by the appearance of the angel, but she chose to accept the comfort of his assurance that God viewed her with favor. God had called her to a unique role, one that many would question or misunderstand, but he had promised to be with her. She could have been paralyzed by fear — resistant, disqualifying herself or questioning God’s method, concerned for her reputation and future marriage plans. But instead she chose to accept her commission; she chose willing service; she chose trust.
Where is God asking you to let go of your fears — to not worry what people will think, to not question whether you’re the right man or woman for the job, to not stress about the details? Where is he calling you to accept his call, to serve him and to trust?
Week 3, December 10 – Joseph – Matthew 1:18-25
This advent we’ve been hearing how every time an angel shows up in the Christmas story, they tell their audience not to be afraid. Apparently angels are scary! And there’s a message for us in this because there are a lot of things that are scary in our world too. The last few months of 2017 have been filled with news reports of shootings, prejudice and anger, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and threats of war. There is so much to fear!
When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, he had a lot on his mind. His fiance was pregnant. He knew the baby wasn’t his – he probably felt betrayed, and disappointed, and angry. But he was kind and didn’t want to humiliate Mary, so he’d made up his mind to just quietly end the engagement. But that wasn’t God’s plan.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
The angel addressed Joseph’s fear directly: Don’t be afraid to marry Mary – she hasn’t been unfaithful – the unbelievable story she’s telling you is true – the baby’s father really is God! Faith can seem crazy. Why not worry about all the violence in the world? Why not live a secluded, protected life? Why not avoid risk? We don’t use our faith as an excuse to be reckless or ignorant. But when God speaks clearly, through a dream as he did to Joseph; through something in the Bible, through consistent “signs” from various sources, or through an inner certainty, we can respond in faith and trust God. Joseph risked his own reputation when he stayed with Mary, he took on the extra burden of a child he hadn’t fathered. Trusting God cost him! But he chose to believe that the angel he saw in his dream was truly God’s messenger, corroborating the story of his future wife. He chose to believe outside the box of what’s humanly possible or likely. He laid aside his fears, and got to be part of God’s story of redemption.
Is God calling you to live by faith, not by fear? Is he calling you to believe and live by his words and promises, rather than by what everyone around you says is right and good? Let’s be like Joseph, wake up, and do as God commands us!!
Week 4, December 17 – Shepherds – Luke 2:8-18
If something bright lights up the night sky, we have a lot of possible and reasonable explanations. It could be a search helicopter, a firework display, or the neighbor trying out their new motion-activated flood light. But for the shepherds watching the sheep on the hillside outside Bethlehem the night Jesus was born, there was no easy way to explain the glory that shone all around them when the angels showed up. Lightening only flashed for a second; this was ongoing beams of absolutely terrifying glory!
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
Honestly, we don’t know what’s going to happen next, do we? We may get no warning for the car accident, the health crisis, being laid off, or the expensive appliance repair. It’s easy to become chronically anxious, afraid to leave the house, worried about all the “what ifs.” With every event and every conversation we can start to fear or even assume the worst. We develop an over-awareness of our vulnerability and either live timid, nervous lives or work extra hard to try to control every potential risk.
God sent Jesus to save us from our fear. David wrote at the beginning of Psalm 27:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
The angels appearing to the shepherds was totally unexpected and absolutely terrifying. But it was good! The angels brought the good news – Jesus was born, the long-awaited savior had arrived. The things that scare us and frighten us aren’t always awful things – sometimes God uses them to bring good things into our lives.
God is still showing up and encouraging us not to be afraid. Jesus came, and his Spirit is still with us. We are not alone. Whatever happens to us in this life, we have hope. If we have a relationship with Jesus, we will live with him forever. Now that’s good news.
Do not be afraid!