Four times in the Christmas narrative we find the phrase ‘Do not be afraid’. An angel of Lord appears to Zechariah, a Jewish Priest and the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:13); to Mary the mother of Jesus via the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:30); to Joseph, via an angel, in a dream (Matthew 1:20) and finally to the shepherds in the field as an angel of the Lord appeared before them (Luke 2:10).

At face value, these remarkable encounters would in themselves strike fear and trembling into any rational person, trying desperately to make sense of an angelic visitation. For most of us, an angelic visitation probably won’t occur in our life time, and so it’s hard to make sense of these definitive visitations and their impact on those whose lives were suddenly intersected with the most unexpected news.  

They form a key part of the Christmas story, to remind each of us that fear is both normal and debilitating. They intersect the unfolding nativity narrative, as if to remind us that there is a mystery unfolding that we might never fully understand. So often fear becomes a tipping point, a moment for change and growth in the human condition.

Recent research by neuroscientists[1] have substantially helped us understand fear as an emotion. It seems that fear is processed differently from other emotions as the brain bypasses the sensory cortex to trigger responses via the amygdala. For example, the brain responds to a normal stimulus in 250-300 milli-seconds, but a fear-evoking stimulus can reach the amygdala in a mere 12 milli-seconds.

For the un-scientific – this is the response of ‘fight’ or ‘flight’: – an instant and immediate physiological response to acute danger or fear that bypasses the normal reasoning processes within the brain. We either confront the danger or run away. 

We see in the biblical characters in the Christmas narrative, that neither physiological response eventuated. I suspect that the visitations were so profoundly outside a normative paradigm that the characters simply acquiesced, unable to process what was occurring. They were gobsmacked, totally captivated by the news that was to be not simply good news, but great and wonderful and majestic news! The announcements ‘do not be afraid’ were contextual and everlasting.

The crescendo to this wonderful Christmas story is the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus, Son of God and Saviour of the World. This is a love story. It is a story of a humble, modest start in a waiting world.

This Christmas may all your fears be resolved. May you know the love of God deeply in your life so that you might express this love to those around you. May you know the everlasting love of God extinguishing your worst kept fears and anxieties.

Thank God for Jesus. Thank God for Christmas.   

To all our churches and leaders, may the new year be a year of freedom and love as you follow Jesus on mission together. We are blessed and privileged to walk this journey with you.

Andrew Ball
Executive Ministry Director

 

 

[1] Interested readers should search for Global Distinguished Professor Dr. Joseph LeDoux from New York University.

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