The shepherds in first-century Israel lived in a very frightening time. They lived under the tyrant King Herod, who executed people at will. Not only that, but the Jews lived in occupied territory after the Romans came and took control of their country. They were no longer free to live as they wanted.
They wondered whether Rome would ever leave. Would the violent rule ever cease? Would their world ever change? And then suddenly an angel came and announced to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid. The Messiah has come.”
Even so, they were afraid. Today there’s a lot to fear in our world as well. It’s a very unstable world, a very volatile world. I could talk about terrorism. I could talk about rogue nations developing nuclear weapons. And I could talk about crazy people who shoot others at will.
It seems that every time we turn around, we hear about another horrific tragedy. Then we have our personal fears: What if I lose my health? What if I lose a member of my family? What if this or that happens?
A lot of things concern us. But the message of that first Christmas is the same message for us today: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10).
Ray Stedman, who was an excellent Bible commentator, wrote, “The chief mark of the Christian ought to be the absence of fear and the presence of joy.”
Is that a description of you? This Christmas, you can take part in a special kind of exchange. Bring God your fear and worry, and exchange it for His peace. Bring God your sorrow, and receive His joy.
Fear is what Christmas came to remove. And now we can have joy in its place.