As I re-read the “Christmas story” in Luke 2 this week, I realized that the romantic, sentimental version of the story to which I had grown accustomed generated positive sentiments that are far different from the first sentiments actually recorded in connection with the birth of Jesus.
Instead, the first recorded sentiment was fear. The word in the original manuscripts is rooted in the word from which we get our word “phobia.” Fear was the reaction of the shepherds to the heavens opening and an angel appearing.
Unlike our modern understanding of phobia, there was nothing irrational about the fear the shepherds experienced! I dare say that each of us would be fearful if, in going about our daily work, the heavens suddenly opened and we saw an angel.
It is no wonder that the very first recorded words spoken to any person following the birth of Jesus were, “Fear not.”
When the reality of an unseen, spiritual world breaks forth upon us for the first time, a good and proper initial reaction is fear. When we see the holiness of God and see ourselves in light of that, we come “undone,” as Isaiah put it (Isaiah 6:5).
But what makes the fear go away is the “good news” that the Holy has actually come to save us from our lack of holiness. Jesus was God making a way for us, for how can the unholy have an audience and a relationship with the Holy except that the Holy make the way?
As I contemplated this, I thought of something else so familiar that I miss it it as easily as I miss parts of the Christmas story, and it’s the song “Amazing Grace.” I’d not thought of the fact that its not-as-familiar second stanza sums up the Christmas story:
“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.”
Think about that verse the next time you hear the song and may the joy of “fears relieved” birth in you the real Spirit of Christmas.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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