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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas musings: Fear not!

I have been so anxious over the past few months. Anxious over my husband's workload and travel requirements, the US presidential election, my Masters classes, recent financial decisions, making the holiday season "perfect" for my family...and I'm currently 37 weeks pregnant to boot! If you ask my husband (and almost anyone who knows me well), I'm a worrier. It's what I do. It's one of those things I have to work on constantly in my walk with God. Obviously, this season has been no different.

This morning I gave in to pregnancy insomnia (again) and decided to spend time in God's word. As He always does, God spoke straight into my heart to allay my fears and calm my mind. I decided to read the Christmas story, which I think most of you have probably done or at least heard at some point in your life. Thanks to popular media and Charlie Brown, most people have at least heard the account given to us in Luke 2:8-20. But this morning, as I read it for what seems like the umpteenth time, something struck me.

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people." Luke 2:10

Now most people read that and accept that the angel is telling the shepherds, and us by proxy, that the birth of Christ will bring great joy to everyone. But I think we glaze over a more subtle message on our way to that joy. Read it again: "But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid.'" Do you see what I'm getting at? True, the shepherds were literally fearful in that moment as an angel randomly appeared in their field with a message about some special baby. The angel was simply calming them so he could pass along God's joyous news. But if we put it together and read a little further in scripture, I believe the angel's message in its entirety applies to "all the people." The good news brought by the angel, in the form of the tiny Messiah child, was meant to bring great joy and calm all fears for all people. 

In my morning Advent devotional, there were a series of prophetic verses to back this up. Deuteronomy 4:29-31 (NLT) says, "But from there you will search again for the Lord your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him. In the distant future, when you are suffering all these things, you will finally return to the Lord your God and listen to what he tells you. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon you or destroy you or forget the solemn covenant he made with your ancestors." What covenant? This verse is specifically referencing the covenant God made with Abraham in which God promised to make his descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach (Genesis 22:17-18). One of those descendants was Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-17). Jesus' life and sacrifice ushered in a new covenant, one under which anyone can believe and be saved (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9). Part of that covenant is a "peace...which surpasses all understanding," (Philippians 4:7) along with the joy promised by the angel in that field so long ago.

Luckily for people like me, God extends grace even when we don't deserve it. Psalm 103:13-14 (NLT) says, "The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust." Wow, somehow that verse manages to simultaneously convict and calm me. God knows I'm human, and he extends grace to me in my anxiety by giving me His peace. But that's not all. "The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: 'I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts," (Isaiah 57:15, NLT). Not only does God promise to extend grace and bestow peace, He will also restore my spirit and revive me, if I'm only willing to repent of my worrisome nature. 

Jesus himself said, "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me...(v.27) I am leaving you with a gift - peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid," (John 14:1, 27; NLT). And there it is again. We've come full circle. It's so simple, it's easy to miss or forget, but it's foundational to our faith - we don't have to fear because we have Jesus. Romans 8:38 in the New Living Translation (NLT) states that nothing, not even "our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow," can separate us from God's love. So this season as I strive to focus on all the wonderful facets of God's Christmas gift to us, I know that I can rest easy in His promises. 

That's why in my journal this morning, I noted that, "God is...faithful to keep his promises through all situations and generations." I will still worry at times, but I will do as Mary did in Luke 2:19. I will treasure this knowledge of peace and ponder God's grace when anxiety builds.

I wish you all a peaceful and fulfilling Christmas.

Hapless but hopeful, 

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