What would you say is the most powerful force in the world?     What power has the greatest ability to change, transform, shape and even control a human life more than any other power? I know what I would say, and I have a pretty good idea what you probably think I am going to say, especially since it is Christmas Eve.     You probably expect me to say LOVE.     I’ll get to love in a moment, but before I get to love, I believe there is another force that is almost as powerful.  If you are a cynic you would say it is more powerful – perhaps the most powerful force in the world.  I am not a cynic so I won’t say that.     It’s a force and a power that is running loose in the world, at times out of control, wreaking its havoc, distorting and disfiguring human life and relationships wherever it exerts its dark influence – and it is called FEAR.     We learn about fear at a very young age.  We are taught and even brainwashed into being afraid so much of the time, and the insidious thing about fear are the consequences.  Fear has consequences – often dire consequences.

A few years ago I attended our synod youth gathering in Estes Park with a group of high school youth. The theme of the Youth Gathering was “Fear Not!”    We spent the weekend reflecting on fear and how fear manifests itself in our lives and in our relationships.   The biggest fear I heard repeatedly expressed by the teenage youth was “judgment of their peers” – the fear of rejection.   One consequence of the fear of rejection is conformity – to conform becomes paramount above everything else.   And if the fear of rejection is big enough and strong enough and powerful enough then conformity supersedes everything: supersedes right and wrong; good and bad; moral and immoral, etc.     .

I gave a book to a person to read that I thought he might enjoy.     He looked at the title and said, “I am afraid to read it.”     “Why,” I asked. He said, “If I read it I might have to change my mind about some things and that frightens me.”     Fear of change: the consequence is stagnation, lack of growth, intellectual blindness and rigidity.

Fear has consequences, and fear always distorts our perceptions of reality.     Afraid of failure – consequence: Don’t take a risk.     Afraid to trust – consequence: withhold yourself.

What are you afraid of?   Death?  Disability? Illness? Cancer?  Immigrants? Homosexuals? Being wrong? Going to Hell?   Muslims?  Terrorism? Foreigners? Being alone?  Growing old? Unemployment? What are you afraid of and what are the consequences of your fear?  Are you fearful to even acknowledge that you are afraid?

Matthew and Luke give us two very different versions of the Christmas story, but both stories have one thing in common. They are told not to fear.     Joseph is told not to fear in Matthew’s version and Mary is told not to fear in Luke’s version.

As a matter of fact, “Do not be afraid!” is one of the most common and repeated mandates in the Bible.  Over and over again we hear the mandate, “Fear not!”  “Do not be afraid!”

  • At the beginning of the Bible, God puts the finger on Abraham and called Abraham and Sarah to a whole new way of life, with the words, “Do not be afraid!”
  • In Exodus, the people of God were fleeing the slavery of Egypt. Pharaoh, having second thoughts, sent his army after them. Caught between the sea on one side and Pharaoh’s vicious advancing army on the other, Moses stood up and said to a fearful people, “Do not be afraid!”
  • Youthful Jeremiah, shaking in his shoes, terrified at the prospect of being called by God to be God’s spokesperson to a cantankerous people somehow heard the Lord say, “Do not be afraid!”
  • Peter, suddenly feeling totally inadequate in the presence of Jesus, fell to his knees in fear, and Jesus gently assured him by picking him up with the words, “Do not be afraid!”
  • Fussing about the importance of material things, Jesus talked to his disciples about the life-style he intended for them, that is people who don’t put all their trust in material abundance and security. Seeing the look of anxiety on their faces Jesus said, perhaps with a wry smile, “Do not be afraid!”
  • Facing the inevitability of his death, Jesus is telling his disciples that he will soon be gone from their midst but reinforced them with the words, “Do not be afraid!”

There is such a thing as healthy fear.  However, it’s in the nature of fear to want to take over – to dominate – to strangulate – to manipulate – and so often we capitulate – and in so doing we lose our freedom, become closed within ourselves, and we fail to realize our true human potential, a fuller humanity – and most significantly we give up on LOVE.   The one thing that can put up an almost impenetrable barrier keeping God’s life-giving Spirit out; blocking God’s love from flowing into our lives is FEAR!  Fear has that kind of awesome power!  Fear has the power to stifle a human life.     Fear has the negative energy to keep you from living fully in the present. Fear has the power to lock you up within yourself and throw away the key!

How many human dreams have died unrealized in the ashes of fear? How many of yours?
How many broken relationships have never been mended because of the power of fear? How many of yours?
How much forgiveness has never been asked for, and how much forgiveness has ever been put on ice all because of fear? How much with you?
How much pain has been inflicted because of fear?  How much pain has not been comforted all because of fear? How much with you?
How much prejudice has been passed from one generation to the next through the vehicle of fear?
How much social injustice has continued unabated because of fear?
How much ignorance has gone unchallenged because of fear?
How much compassion has been withheld because of fear?
How much manipulation of the masses has been achieved using fear?

In Galatians Paul said, Jesus was “born of a woman.”   That’s Paul’s way of saying he was a human being like you and me.  He was a human being.   There was nothing about him that gave him an advantage over anybody else, because if he had an advantage his life would not be credible and his challenges to love would not be credible.   That’s what makes his life so remarkable – the most remarkable life ever lived because he lived it without any advantage, and he lived it without being controlled and dominated by fear.  When we follow Jesus through the gospels we see a most remarkable thing; that time and time again he reached through boundaries of fear that were impassible barriers for everyone else – forbidden religious barriers; ethnic barriers; racial barriers; gender barriers; economic barriers; social barriers – the most formidable barriers of his time.  Why? How?  Because the life of Jesus, the most remarkable life ever lived, was characterized and shaped by the LOVE of God.  He trust LOVE and “perfect loves casts out all fear.”  His was a life devoid of fear and full of the love of God which he gave away freely and lavishly.

This season we celebrate the little life that lays in the manger for the person he grew to be – a life full of God’s love – love that casts out all fear – and it’s a gift that God through Jesus Christ desires for you and me to have as our own and to live as our own above all else.

If the world is to ever be a place with little or no fear, it begins with your life and the lives of those who hear the message of Christmas all over the world tonight, as we by grace through faith, experience his rebirth in us and choose, not fear, but love; the love that emerged in the life we are celebrating.

Merry Christmas!



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