Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. You can kind of understand why the shepherds might have been a little freaked out by the appearance of the angel to them, can’t you? They were just minding their own business, doing whatever it is that shepherds do at night when they’re out in the fields tending the sheep. Maybe they were sitting around a small campfire telling stories while the sheep grazed around them. Maybe they were up, walking around and taking a bit more of an active role in watching over the sheep. Or maybe they were taking turns keeping watch—some might have been dozing, while others watched over the sheep.
Luke doesn’t tell us in detail what the shepherds were doing out in those fields other than that they were doing whatever it is that shepherds do and minding their own business. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, this angelic figure appears, glowing brightly like the sun! Put yourself in their shoes for a second. This must have been incredibly disorienting and terrifying! Maybe you’ve had something similar happen—where you were outside, sitting around a campfire. It was pitch black. All the lights were off, and the stars were shining brightly overhead. Then out of nowhere, someone rudely, albeit accidentally, turns a flashlight on (or worse yet, an LED flashlight) and shines it in your eyes! Think about that feeling, only multiplied tenfold! The shepherds were terrified at the angel’s appearance.
2. But then the angel speaks some odd words to those unsuspecting shepherds: “Fear not.” What do you mean, “fear not”?!? You just appeared out of nowhere and blinded me with a crazy bright light while I was minding my own business out here. What do you mean, “fear not”? But the angel said, Fear not, for behold I bring you good news—Gospel news—of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior who is Christ the Lord! Then a great company of the heavenly host—a massive amount of other angelic beings—appeared with the angel singing, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. And the amazing thing is, if you look at the response of those shepherds, that peace of God had indeed come to them. There was no more need to fear because the savior was born! So they ran off in faith to worship the new born king, and after they had seen him, they went around telling everyone about this Gospel news which drives out fear.
3. This is such a nice story, isn’t it? A Christmas classic that we love to hear along with cherished Christmas stories like ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas or Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer. But see, this story of the shepherds on that first Christmas night is fundamentally different than those stories. While those Christmas classics have the power to conjure up warm feelings in our hearts and bring back childhood memories of Christmases past, this story of the shepherds has even greater power because it’s not just the shepherds’ story, it’s also your story and mine. The message of the angel, Fear not for I bring you good news of great joy, is just as real for you this Christmas as it was for those shepherds on this night 2,000 years ago.
4. See, in a lot of ways, we’re not all that different from the shepherds. We’re filled with fear. And whether you realize it or not, fear drives many (if not most) of the decisions we make. Often times, in fear of failure, we choose the safe, comfortable route in life, even when it’s not what we really want to do. We make so many decisions in fear of rejection, too. So, the clothes that we wear, the gadgets that we buy, they’re all about impressing others so that we don’t find ourselves rejected and isolated. We also make a lot of decisions based on fear of consequences. How will my relationship with so-and-so change if I stand up for what I believe in? How will my boss act if I draw this line for the sake of my family? Will I lose out on that promotion? But see, fear doesn’t just drive the decisions we make, it has a huge impact on who we are because fear gets in the way of total dependence on Jesus. Fear paralyzes us and tricks us into believing that we are defined by the sum of our decisions and our worth in the eyes of others.
5. But, my friends, because the shepherds’ story is also your story, the message of the angel to those shepherds is also for you: Fear not for I bring you good news of great joy—unto you is born a savior! See, Jesus’ presence with us replaces your fear with his peace. This sweet baby Jesus didn’t stay a baby – he grew up and completed the work that his Father had sent him to do here on this earth. And after that work was completed, he ascended into heaven where he now sits and the right hand of the Father ruling and reigning over all things. And his Spirit is alive and active in this world today re-writing the story of millions and millions of people across the globe so that their story becomes a part of the shepherds’ story, and the peace that the great company of angels proclaimed on that first Christmas comes into their hearts and lives by the working of the Holy Spirit. My friends, through this Gospel message, through the message of the angels, Jesus invites you into his peace. See, this message “Fear not” isn’t a command to never fear, it’s a command to stop letting fear get in the way of complete and utter dependence on Jesus. Because it’s through dependence on Jesus that his peace becomes ours and our story becomes a part of his greater story.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.