The pastures are filled with sheep, the sky is filled with angelic glory and the shepherd hearts are filled with fear. And why wouldn’t they be afraid? Would you yawn your way through such an experience? But the angel of the Lord said, “Don’t be afraid.” I wasn’t there but I know as sure as Sunday follows Saturday that he wasn’t yelling at them or bullying them into peace. Whatever his tone it wasn’t peevish and born out of impatience. It was assurance he was giving and not an order! No parent with a grain of sense would scream “enjoy yourself!” at the children thinking that that would enable them to do it.Yelling “Live! Live!” at a corpse doesn’t work!
The fear of the shepherds turned to joy when they heard the message the angel had to bring and when they checked it out at the stable. “Don’t be afraid because…” The reasons for their fear were dealt with in a message of assurance; a message capable of bringing joy!
Some poor souls are born fearful, they’re too high-strung. They don’t need a special occasion to make them tremble; they were born trembling and their social and family environments made the world an awful place. They aren’t among the “beautiful people” or the “life and soul of the party” types so they’re forever hovering around on the outside of the circle, barely in touch and barely noticed. And as yet they aren’t able to tell those stories about being “the kid that was never picked to play” but then things changed. For them nothing has changed and the deep fear that nothing will is getting deeper! No one came along to kiss them and turn them from a frog into a prince and for them the beautiful song Somewhere over the Rainbow that offers a hopeful message still ends with doubt and “why can’t I?”
And heartfelt religion doesn’t help them because the kind of religion they get is a ceaseless stream of moralizing or calls to response.“Let’s all do better” or “let’s make this church grow” or “let’s get involved in the church’s programs” or “let’s give more money” or “let’s…” And it’s precisely because they take their religion seriously that these fearful people are even more troubled. Others are able to shrug and let the preacher babble on but not these people! They’re afraid not to take very seriously everything he says (even if he doesn’t) but for more reasons than they know they can’t get up for the many challenges the vibrant (and salaried) ministers hand out. And then there are some fear-filled preachers whose good advice and sound sermons seem to have little effect on themselves, though they’ve been offering them for years. It’s a bit difficult for the strugglers to find help from a preacher’s/teacher’s helpful biblical assurances that apparently don’t work for him or her. “I’m still struggling with this myself.” (Why? Why would you think they would work for us if not for you?)
Some silly people among us mistake their fearlessness for faith. And worse, they somehow think they’re self-made! They never knew fear and came out of the womb ready to take on the world and when they came to Christ the assurance He offered only added to the calm that was already theirs as a result of genes and neural activity, early life’s experiences or whatever. And because they are gifted and shaped with that marvelous world-beater personality they tend to think everyone should be the same. But they’re not the same! Those who are so well put together inside know no fear of rejection or failure and career through life laughing at trouble and finding adventure in everything are a lovely sight to behold. Because they know no fear, or because if it comes they have the inner strength to shove it aside they’re tempted to look and wonder about the fearful.
For the brave among us the fear of the fearful is easily viewed as failure to be much of a Christian and passages like Revelation 21:8 are brought in to threaten the fearful with hell. And then there’s the text that’s treated like a rebuke rather than an assurance: “God hasn’t given us the spirit of fear.” But then nobody’s claiming He did. The text doesn’t change the fact that many of us are troubled by irrational fears and worries!
Keep feeding us something that will help us to function tolerably well even while we tend to lean toward the darker end of the spectrum until that day when the fear is completely obliterated.
If a man is brawling with a life-threatening cancer we rightly sympathize with him and speak encouragement and assurance to him. If a poor soul is brawling with paralysis through fear we sometimes demand that she/he heal him/herself! But who would choose to live the torment some of these people endure if they could heal themselves? Tell me that?
But if we think we can’t help them, then in God’s name let’s get out of the way and let others have a shot at it! I know people like us who worry and are needy are a real burden and sometimes we’re viewed as a real but unnecessary pain in the neck (“It’s all in his head,” is a common enough phrase). Still, Jesus took us in.
I don’t say all fear is of the same kind or that it runs equally deep in everyone’s experience and I know that the help offered must be tailored depending on the person and his or her situation. He was speaking in light of the existential reality–Christ, I mean–when He said, “You will always have the poor with you.” In a world shaped like this we’ll always have the fearful and emotionally fragile with us.
I don’t know enough to heal all my own fears much less anyone else’s but I know we need to dive into the massive truths of the gospel that’s brought to us in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. I know that! I know we need to proclaim, not suggest, to people that the compassionate and understanding God has called them to liberate them and also to use them even while their poor hearts are troubled. He promises to keep them on their feet by faith and use them that other troubled souls will see and believe that it is okay to be hurting. 1 Peter 1:3-6.
I know that the God that came to us in Jesus Christ is a Father to us all and that the clear vision of Him can finally enable people to say within, “It’s okay that I am this way. Until that day comes when we are all fully liberated He will help me to live with my trembling heart the way He helps other poor souls live with their severe and lifelong illnesses.”
And I know that we need to restructure our whole thinking about suffering in the world and show that it can be redemptive; that God can use it as He used the suffering of the Lord Jesus to bless the world. However we speak or sing or behave it should be (as the gracious God enables us) to echo the uplifting message of the angel to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid because…”
In God’s name continue to give us developed reasons! Reasons big enough to speak to a big round teeming troubled world and to the Church that is part of it!

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