Peace Is the Absence of Fear
Isaiah 9:6-7 / Luke 2:8-14
Dr. Jim Denison
There is good news for our hectic world: scientists have determined that our earth is spinning more slowly with each passing day. In merely 200 million years, a day will have 25 hours in it; in 400 million years, we’ll have 26 hours in a day. Just think what you’ll be able to do with the added time.
In the meanwhile, we need peace for our hectic and troubled hearts.
This Christmas week, our president appeared on national television to report on the war in Iraq, as casualties mount and criticisms escalate. Counterfeit bird flu drugs were seized a few days ago in San Francisco. The Senate continued its debate over the Patriot Act. Spain arrested 15 al-Qaeda recruiters in that country.
Whatever you would say about the times in which we live, you would not say that they are filled with peace. To such a world Jesus came to be our Prince of Peace. On the first Christmas the angels announced “peace among those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:14). Where do you need such peace in your life and soul this Christmas Day? Peace in the year to come?
Today’s sermon in a sentence comes from a friend’s recent statement to me: “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of fear.” How can we experience that peace which banishes fear today?
Name your fear
On the first Christmas Day, the first people invited to the celebration were shepherds in the field. When the angel of the Lord appeared to them, “they were filled with fear.” Luke’s Greek actually says “they feared a mega fear.” The NIV says they were “terrified.” The English Standard Version says they were “filled with fear”–the translation indicates that they had room for no other emotions but fear.
The dictionary defines the English word “fear” as “a feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger.” The Greeks were more specific. Their word is phobos; we get “phobia” from it. The word may have originally meant “hair-raising.” Phobos in the ancient world meant to be terrified, to be put to flight, to be so afraid that you fear for your life.
I didn’t know until studying the text this week that this is the only time in the Bible when people respond to an angelic visit with mega phobia, “great fear.” Why?
You know that the shepherds were among the lowest class in their society. They so often stole from their employers that you could not buy from them. They were so infamous for lying that they could not testify in a court of law. They did not observe kosher dietary laws, cleanliness regulations, or any other religious dictates for that matter, so they could not attend a synagogue or Temple service.
We don’t have anyone like them in our culture today. But if you knew someone who was so immoral and irreligious that he was not allowed to go to church, you’d know a shepherd. There were the most irreligious people in their world.
Now it makes more sense that they would be “filled with fear” upon seeing “the glory of the Lord.”
Imagine an employee stealing from the cash register when the boss walks up behind him, or a student using her cell phone to cheat on a test when the teacher looks over her shoulder, or an adulterer talking on the phone with his girlfriend when his wife picks up the other line. The one time I cut class in high school, I was driving down Bissonnet Street in Houston with some friends when who should drive by the other way but my mother. Dinner that night was less than enjoyable.
Imagine that you’ve rejected the word and will of God for years, and not darkened the door of a church building since you were a kid, and suddenly an angel of the Lord shows up at your office. How would you feel?
If God could give peace to the most irreligious people in the New Testament, what can he do for your soul this morning? In what way are you a shepherd today? What fear has burrowed its way into your soul? What is stealing your peace? Name your fear; admit your burden or worry or discouragement. And know that the Prince of Peace has come for shepherds the world over, including you.
Make God your Father
Given that the shepherds were paralyzed with terror, it is no surprise that the first word the angel would speak would be, “Fear not.” Literally, “stop being afraid.” It’s a command in the Greek. That’s as far as the ancient world could go with fear–stop it. The Stoics and Epicureans, Aristotle and Plato were all convinced that fear was a bad thing. But they had no idea what to do with it except to refuse it. Stop being afraid.
But that’s a little like telling a soldier about to make his first parachute jump to stop being nervous, or a man about to undergo open heart surgery not to worry. Saying it doesn’t make it so. We’re all shepherds today, in need of the peace of God for our fears, doubts, worries, and burdens. What do we do to find the peace of God where we need it most?
First, we make God our Father. We step into that personal relationship with him through which he gives us his peace. He cannot give what we are not close enough to receive. If the shepherds could become the children of God, so can you.
The angel was clear on this: “behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.”
“I bring”–this remedy for fear comes from God, not man, so you can trust it. It is the Greek word for evangelizing or preaching, and could be rendered “I proclaim as the word of God.”