Before the New Year gets into full swing, consider one more Christmas reflection as we head into 2017 with its myriad of opportunities and challenges.
If you read the birth-of-Jesus accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, it’s hard to miss the significance of dreams and angels. In Matthew, God communicates through dreams to the Magi once and to Joseph four times (Matthew 1:20; 2:12, 13, 19, 22). And in both Matthew and Luke, angels (either identified as “an angel of the Lord” or “the angel of the Lord” or as Gabriel himself) communicate God’s messages to Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father), to Joseph, to Mary, and to the shepherds.
In each of the angelic messages, the opening sentence is “don’t be afraid” or “fear not:”
- To Joseph – don’t be afraid to take – out-of-wedlock-pregnant – Mary as your wife (Matthew 1:20)
- To Zechariah – don’t be afraid; your prayer has been heard (Luke 1:13)
- To Mary – don’t be afraid; you have found favor with God (Luke 1:30)
- To the shepherds – don’t be afraid; receive the Good News of a Savior (Luke 2:10)
As we enter 2017, we need to hear these four “don’t be afraid” statements applied in our own lives.
Like Joseph, we need to hear the angel of the Lord say: “Don’t be afraid to take the risk of trusting God – with your future, your reputation, or your potentially disrupted plans.” We often forget the challenge that Mary’s Spirit-conceived pregnancy was for Joseph. Rather than a picture perfect wedding involving the community, he now was marrying a pregnant woman who would be whispered about in the city. Joseph had to choose to trust God when the external circumstances flooded his head with doubt. The years ahead were not easy for Joseph, Mary and Jesus, but faith triumphed over his fears and he obeyed. May we do the same in 2017.
Like Zechariah, we need to hear the angel of the Lord say, “God has heard and is hearing your prayers – even when you feel like giving up.” Zechariah’s questions to Gabriel (Luke 1:18) revealed that he really didn’t believe the angelic message. We might feel the same way with the prayers that we have uttered for years or even decades. May God visit us with stunned silence as we see Him work in our lives this year.
Like Mary, we need to hear the angel say, “Don’t be afraid to let God use your life – no matter how insignificant you might feel.” Mary’s praise song (Luke 1:46ff) describe her own feelings of smallness, yet she grasped the truth that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Never forget that God often chooses to use people who are unknown and unnoticed to achieve His greatest purposes.
Like the socially outcast shepherds, we need to hear the angel say, “Don’t be afraid: the Good News of God’s salvation is open to all – no matter how disqualified you might feel.” Shepherds were often regarded as unclean and unworthy – and they probably saw themselves that way too. But God reminds them that His grace is big enough for all of us. Jesus didn’t come to call the self-righteous; He came to seek and to save the lost – like these shepherds… like me.
2017 will provide us with lots of opportunities to be afraid – from global tensions to unpredictable national leadership changes to the economy to personal health or relational issues. Listen to God’s angelic messages – take the risk of trust; keep praying; let God use your life; celebrate His grace.
Happy New Year!