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Advent Devotional for Saturday, December 24: Christmas Eve
• Luke 2:1-14
The first words announcing Jesus’s birth are not “behold, a child is born,” not “peace be with you,” but “Do not be afraid.” Jesus’s birth occurred amid multiple fears. The shepherds, undoubtedly, were afraid of the sudden appearance of angels and the glory of the Lord that surrounded them. Then, as now, such heavenly sightings were not everyday events. But there was much more to be feared in this era than angels. Many feared Emperor Augustus and the authority of the Roman Empire. Galilee and Judea, like other Roman colonies, may have feared the census that represented Roman dominion over the Mediterranean world. Others feared for their lives, wondering when they would eat their next meal. Still others feared for their families, despairing over the future and whether children would have full lives.
Most of these fears have not been erased in our day. Countless people still struggle for daily bread; we worry about our children and their safety; we fear the unknown. In many cases, these fears have only intensified in the two thousand years since Jesus’s birth. The past decade has revealed a host of founded and unfounded fears in the American psyche: terrorism, immigration, economic insecurity, climate change. Our public discourse mirrors those fears, often degenerating into hysterical warnings and callous dismissals of others. We still have much to fear.
Fear, in many cases, is a natural and necessary instinct. Jesus comes to the world not to eliminate fear, but to enable a more life-giving response to fear. I imagine that the shepherd’s fears didn’t disappear when they heard the angel say, “Do not be afraid.” But these shepherds, after hearing these words, do not flee the scene and hide; instead, they hasten to Mary, Joseph, and the baby, and tell others what they have heard.
What are your fears? How might you respond to them not only with “fight or flight,” but with love? As we herald the birth of the Prince of Peace, we also proclaim that fear does not have the final word. The angel’s words still abide.
Holy and living God, you know our fears more intimately than we know them ourselves. On this holy night, illumine our fears by the light of your Son’s love, allowing us to embrace the life you give to the world in Christ our Lord. Amen.
David H. Jensen
Academic Dean & Professor in the Clarence N. and Betty B. FriersonDistinguished Chair Reformed Theology
For the glory of God and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary is a seminary in the Presbyterian-Reformed tradition whose mission is to educate and equip individuals for the ordained Christian ministry and other forms of Christian service and leadership; to employ its resources in the service of the church; to promote and engage in critical theological thought and research; and to be a winsome and exemplary community of God's people.
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