We’ve been walking through the story of God through word, art, and song over the last several blogposts. Last time, Grace shared about the time of exile and lament the people found themselves in. Far from home, hopeless and afraid, they wondered if God would ever bail them out. We find out today’s post that, yes, he has, and he’s going to do it by speaking to and addressing what’s deep underneath it all.
I’ve seen three babies born… mine. And I noticed something with each of them: they all came out crying. But what do those tears mean?
Are they tears of doubt, as if they came out saying, “Well, I don’t know about this! Is life outside the womb real or just an ethereal implausible state?” That’s probably not it. Or maybe those first tears were tears of grief, sort of a, “I liked my first house. I’m going to miss my bed-womb”—is that what’s going on?
I’d like to suggest there’s a more primary emotion than doubt and grief. Our first sound—our first emotion—is a wail of fear.
A baby comes out crying, “Why is it so cold? Where are the walls? Those were nice walls—AH?! who put their finger down my mouth? Who’s grabbing me? Did you just slap my bottom? What in the w—”
That is how we enter the world. Afraid.
And we spend the rest of our days trying to overcome it.
We’re afraid of people breaking into our homes so we install fences and security systems. We’re uncomfortable with economic uncertainty so we save and save for that rainy day. We’re afraid of getting hurt again so we establish stronger boundaries. Whether we consider these to be good and wise or not, the point is, underneath it all is a kind of fear that we’re trying to deal with.
But it doesn’t really deal with the fear, does it? There’s always a better security system, a taller fence, a clearer boundary, a need for more money—it’s just endless! And it can be incredibly paralyzing: will it ever be enough? Will the ones who’ve had my back still have my back OR use that position to stab me in the back? Will any of this really deliver? What if it fails? What if I fail? Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear.
It seems to me the one thing that unites all humans is fear.
So, is there a cure? An answer? Is there an end to fear?
Luke chapter 2 famously speaks to this. I think you’ll recognize the story.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. (Luke 2:8-9)
Call me sentimental, but I can’t read this text without remembering dear sweet Linus from the Peanuts gang taking the stage, clutching onto his security blanket, saying, “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid.”
Sore afraid, meaning, sick with fear! And it’s no surprise. After all, we find out in other places of Scripture that a single angel could wipe out an entire army of 185,000 people (2 Kings 19)! But I want to point out something odd: usually, it’s the dark that grips people with fear, but here we find the shepherds aren't afraid until the light begins to shine.
At least, that’s what it seems to be saying on the surface, until you take note of the phrase “keeping watch.” By acknowledging this phrase, we learn that the light from heaven didn’t cause them to be afraid; it merely exposed the fear already present but simply managed. This divine shining brought to light the fear that already plagued them—the fear that had them "keeping watch” to quell it.
The light from heaven didn’t cause them to be afraid; it merely exposed the fear already present, but simply managed.
Think about it. All sorts of dangerous animals go bump in the night, and as a shepherd whose role is to protect the sheep, no wonder they’d be keeping watch! It was their attempt to manage and control an otherwise dangerous, fear-inducing situation. But once something out of their control comes in—namely, the glory of God on display—that’s when they could no longer manage or hide their fear: they’re gripped by it.
Are you gripped with fear? Like Linus, clutching onto his security blanket for fear of being exposed and without support, you can know if fear is gripping you by what you’re gripping onto.
Is it your money? How might your savings account balance alert you to a lurking fear that may be underneath it all? Or how might your generosity toward others (or lack thereof) be revealing here?
Stinginess is a good metaphor—stingy with money, we get that—but how about stingy with friends? Is it possible the reason you’re unwilling to welcome others into your friend group is because you’re afraid you might lose what you have? I’ve seen this in churches. Our love for one another keeps us from inviting others because we’re afraid the dynamic might change. Call it: does fear have a grip on you?
Or how about stinginess with forgiveness, meaning: are you holding onto a grudge? They messed up once, maybe twice. Are you unwilling to forgive because you’re afraid of being hurt again? How might that unforgiveness reveal a fear underneath that has you trapped? Are you free, really? Where in your life are you clutching on tightly keeping watch?
What you have a grip on reveals where fear has a grip on you.
What you have a grip on reveals where fear has a grip on you.
So let me ask: do you feel free or does fear have you by the throat? That’s why we try to manage our fears by keeping watch (like the shepherds) or holding on (like Linus), but what if I told you there is something out there that can really, truly, bring an end to the fear that has you so immobilized and so afraid?
The story continues: And the angel said to [the shepherds], “Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good news…" (Luke 2:10)
The phrase “good news” here can be translated as gospel, and the gospel is the only thing strong enough and powerful enough to go deep enough to truly calm our fears! And verse 10 adds that it's "good news of great joy for all people!”
Here's what that means: this gospel that the angels are urging the shepherds to go look and see for themselves is a gospel that angels can only long to look and see, but never quite understand for themselves.
The apostle Peter speaks to this in his letter to fear-stricken first century christians dispersed all around the globe due to persecution. He encourages them in this way:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12, emphasis mine)
I just love that phrase: "Things into which angels long to look." The angels who announced this good news to the shepherds that one night looked—and still look—intently into this salvation, seeking to understand it. Yet they never fully will because, for whatever reason, God has worked this salvation not for the story of angels but the story of humanity.
And not just "for people," but Luke 2:10 tells us it's "good news of great joy for all people." Not merely the spiritually elite or the super christians out there, not for just us or just them. NO! You and I and ALL people are able to NOT fear, why? Because this gospel is for us all!
So what is this gospel—this salvation that even angels long to look and see? I’m so glad you asked.
The gospel, as that angel relayed to those shepherds (and that I relay to you now) is this:
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)
The gospel is that all God’s promises to renew and restore humanity and all of creation are being fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah. That, as the apostle Paul would later write, “all the promises of God find their 'Yes' in [Jesus].” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
"And this will be a sign for you"—Luke 2:12 continues—"you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The proof of the gospel is in the incarnation, that is: the coming of Christ as God in the flesh. Jesus as our “Immanuel” (meaning “God with us”) just as the prophet Isaiah prophesied, that “The Lord himself will give you a sign: a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Luke gives a not-so-subtle nod to this prophecy with that similar language of “here’s the sign for you” (i.e. “here’s how you know this to be true”), that the Almighty God who promised to be with you really will be because: you’re gonna find a baby, swaddled up like any other human baby, sleeping.”
This is the gospel, and this is what will end your fear: you are not alone, you don’t have to manage your fears on your own out of self-competence and self-sufficiency; no, God has made a way, and it’s by coming to be with us. This is the message the New Testament opens up with: God has come—flesh and blood, swaddled like a child—to show us what God is like and what it means to be human. God has a face and his name is Jesus.
God has a face and his name is Jesus.
The end of fear is: God is here.
But this healing gospel can only take root and begin its work once we do what the angel said to those shepherds: “Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good news." (Luke 2:10)
“Fear not" (because you’re afraid)
“I bring you good news” (that alone can cure your fear),
but in order to apply this fear-eradicating gospel to your life, you have to “behold!” That’s why they made haste to go see it with their own two eyes! They had to see it, touch it, feel it, know it—they had to behold it, to the point that they'd return as verse 20 says: “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”
The lyrics to this next song in The Story are adapted from Esther Wigglesworth (1827-1904) and they speak of this glorious gospel message declaring that, when it comes to our salvation, we have a song that even angels cannot sing. They long to look, but it's a gift specifically for us as humans. Oh may we never stay silent about this One who came for us—to the manger and the grave—all to ransom, all to save!
Songs Which Angels Cannot Sing
Hark, what music fills the sky!
“Glory be to God on high,”
Angels sing, and hosts reply.
To the sons of men is given God’s dear Son, best gift of heaven,
Pledge of grace and sin forgiven.
So we praise the One who gave
To the manger and the grave,
All to ransom, all to save.
Christ we own as Lord and King,
And as tribute meet we bring
Songs which angels cannot sing.
We have a song that even the angels cannot sing
So, will we behold this gospel? Have we? We can know if we find ourselves able to let go.
I referenced this earlier, but as a kid I really did enjoy watching the Peanuts Christmas special. And in one scene, where Charlie Brown exclaims, “Can anyone tell me what the real Christmas message is all about,” our boy Linus—anxious, worrying, finger-nail-biting Linus—walks on stage, security blanket in hand, to tell the Christmas story.
I want you to watch a short clip of this now, but as you do, pay attention, because he does something when he gets to the word “Behold” that is far more than coincidence.
Did you catch it?
Linus. drops. his. blanket!
The very security blanket he never lets go of because of the fear that never lets go of him! In this moment, as he recounts the invitation to no longer be afraid, he lets go of his fear, for BEHOLD: the gospel. BEHOLD: the promises of God find their 'Yes' in Jesus. BEHOLD: God has a face, and his name is Jesus.
Linus drops the blanket he'd tried to manage his fears with, but I wonder how many of us are still clutching onto other things in this life to manage our own fear? Grasping onto relationships that we hope will provide us a sense of safety, to grudges that help us feel safe against the uncertainty of offering forgiveness, to habits and addictions that keep us numbed to the pain we are trying to avoid dealing with...
Have you recognized where fear has a grip on you because of the things you can’t let go of? Have you identified that the gospel can lead to the end of your fear? If so, then like Linus, may you find you are finally able to let go and leave the security blankets behind you as the words crossing your lips are the words of the gospel: that, behold, God has a face and his name is Jesus.
We have a song that even the angels cannot sing. What will my final words be? What will yours be? It’s whatever your heart’s beholding now, so I want to invite you—as the angels invited the shepherds—to behold Jesus.
“Fear not,” I bring you good news of great joy for all people—for you. Behold.