Meditations on Luke: “Do Not Be Afraid”

Luke 1:67-80

“His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel.’”

Over Christmas one of my daughters asked me a question. “Daddy, why is it that every time an angel shows up in the Bible, he always says, ‘Do not be afraid’?”

I responded, “Well, what would you do if an angel suddenly appeared in your room one night?”

She said, “I’d scream!”

“There’s your answer,” I said.

Her question raises a powerful point. “Do not be afraid” is the most common exhortation in all of Scripture—and not just from the lips of angels. Literally hundreds of times we are told to not fear. That fact tells us something important about our human condition: we are fearful creatures. So much about life frightens us that God has to constantly remind us to be on guard against fear.

Fear by itself is not a bad thing. God created us as beings capable of feeling afraid, which means that fear has a useful and constructive place. It is fear, for example, that keeps us from crossing the street without first looking in both directions. The problem is not that we sometimes experience fear; our fallen and broken world presents us with plenty of legitimate threats. Wisdom demands that we take such threats seriously and respond to them appropriately.

The problem comes when fear is our primary mode of operation. When that happens, we base our relationships, our decisions, and our overall outlook on fear. And that kind of outlook hardly ever leads to anything constructive or redemptive.

When John the Baptist was born, his father, Zechariah, broke out in a song of praise. In one line of the song he thanked God that God’s people could now “serve him without fear.” That did not mean that Israel’s troubles were now gone or that all her problems were now solved. Far from it. It did mean that Zechariah could now see that God’s plan of redemption was unfolding even in the midst of those troubles. Zechariah was confident in the faithfulness of God, even as he and his fellow Israelites continued to struggle through the oppression and the difficulties of their meager lives in their forgotten corner of the vast Roman Empire.

Today there are all sorts of legitimate reasons to be afraid. When those moments come, we should stop and take stock of our emotions. Why are we fearful? What, if anything, can we do about it in the moment? (For starters, don’t cross the street until the traffic is clear.) And, most important, can we entrust ourselves into the faithfulness of God even as the threats around us continue?

We would do well to learn to sing Zechariah’s song.

Holy God, teach me how to be concerned about the challenges that come my way without being consumed by them. Show me what it means to trust in you, even while I learn to live responsibly and diligently in this fallen world. Through Christ, Amen.

This post originally appeared in Meditations on Luke: Daily Devotions from the Gentile Physician by Chris Cadenhead.

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