Fourth Advent Sunday: Do Not Be Afraid

Luke 1:13, 1:30, and 2:10 & Matthew 1:20

Every moment leading up to Christmas should be a time that is joyous, happy and excited for this is what advent is about. It is season of joyful expectations, and Christmas is the pinnacle of our long-waited joy. 

Yet, about 2,000 years ago, this season was full of fear. But what were they afraid of? They were afraid of angels. If you were to see an angel, how would you respond? On top of that, the angel brings you a shocking news each time. We'd be afraid both by their appearances and by their messages. 

Four times angels appeared to different people in the nativity story of Jesus according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Four times their initial response was fear. This is why four times angels spoke, “Do not be afraid.” But we will see at the end of each story how we are called to prepare, provide, receive and share the coming of Jesus in our midst.

Let’s look at the first story. An angel appeared to Zachariah and told him that he and his wife, Elizabeth, will have a child and they will name him John. Zachariah and Elizabeth wanted a child but they were too old to have one. Zachariah responded to the angel by saying, "How will I know that for sure? We are too old to have a child at this point." And as a punishment, the angel made him mute, unable to speak.

Luke 1:18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

Now, we will see how the fulfillment of the angel's prophecy paved a way for the coming of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at the names here. Their names themselves explain to us how we are called to prepare ourselves to receive Christ. Zachariah means God remembers. Elizabeth means God’s promises. John means graciously given, God’s gift. If you put the names together, it goes something like this: God remembers God’s promises and gives us God’s gift. Then, the question is how can the birth of John be the gift of God? Because John is the forerunner and precursor of Jesus. John’s birth, ministry, life, and death prepares for the coming of our King. 

The first story invites us to submit to God's plan-although we don't fully understand-and to prepare ourselves to receive Christ by keeping Christ at the center of our hearts, minds, words, and deeds. Be ready to receive Christ. 

Let’s at Mary’s situation.Mary was a teenage girl and a virgin. Out of nowhere, the angel appeared and told her that she will bear a child. Do you know how old she was when she first received the news? Between 12-16. Shocking to us but it was their custom back then. But, think about that. Put yourself in her shoes. Wouldn’t you be afraid? Also think about possible consequences of submitting herself to God’s plan. She could lose her engagement to Joseph. If Joseph still marries her, she knew how people would talk. At that time, it was considered unholy, unethical, and disgraceful to bear a child before marriage. It looks like she is trapped in a lose-lose situation. Whatever decision she comes with, there is a negative consequence.

Then, let's see from Joseph's point of view. My fiancé is pregnant? I would feel upset, betrayed, and discouraged. The Scripture tells us that Joseph was going to secretly dismiss her. Then, the angel appeared in his dream and told him, “Do not be afraid” because all of this has happened as part of God’s plan

Although they had a plenty of reasons to disregard the prophecy,  they believed in the promise of God, and Jesus was born. If they had not submitted themselves to God's plan, we wouldn't have the Christmas story we know today. Because they believed and obeyed, God came to us and became one of us to be with us. That is the gift of Christmas, Jesus Christ. The story invites us to believe in the Good News and submit ourselves to God. 

Let’s look at the last story. The angel appeared to the shepherds. We learned from the past that shepherds were not social elites or admired profession because of the hardships associated with the title. But the appearance of the angels to the shepherds tells us, “No matter how insignificant you may think you are, God knows you and you are important to him. God wants you to have the gift of Christmas. It is you who needs Christ most in your life. Now, go and receive him.” And like the angel called out the shepherds, we are called to invite others to receive Christ as well. 

Let us put all the stories of fear together. The story Zachariah, Elizabeth, and John calls us to prepare for the coming of Christ. The story of Joseph and Mary calls us to submit ourselves to God's Good News. The story of the shepherds calls us to go, actively seek Christ, receive him, and share the gift of Christmas with others because there are people who are in a dire need of Christ. Christmas is not about making us feel good and comfortable about ourselves for we have received salvation through Christ. It is about embodying the true meaning of Christmas by sharing the gift of Christmas with others. As God came to us and became one of us on this day, we are called to reach out to those who need God in their lives. May God teach us the true meaning of the name, Emmanuel, God with us, and may God empower us to help others know God's presence in our midst.