The rock star Sting, in a Rolling Stone interview, spoke of his growing awareness of his own mortality: "I'm 64. Most of my life has been lived already, and then, like most of us when a cultural icon dies, we're children.” (In recent years, his friends, David Bowie, Freddy Mercury, Lou Reed, and many others have died). “Because you think, 'How could he or she die?’”
After performing before 100,000 fans in Australia he spent most of his time alone in the hotel "thinking about having more days behind him than in front of him." He goes on to say:
I have been thinking about death since I was a kid. I get a kind of spiritual vertigo. I was brought up in a religious background with ideas of eternity, eternal torment or eternal heaven … I became obsessed with it, maybe morbid about it. Most people die in total panic. Terror. I think there's another way. We're supposed to die. There must be a way to die peacefully and welcoming.
With all his fame and fortune, he is paralysed by fear. In contrast, the overwhelming story of Christmas is that we are called to “Fear not!”
The ‘Fear Not’ of Patient Faith
(Read Luke 1:13)
What went through the minds of Zechariah and Elizabeth in their early years as a married couple? They had discovered they were unable to have children. Did each think, “Is it my fault?”
In their culture, it was quite legitimate for a husband to divorce his wife if she was unable to have children. Did Elizabeth fear that one day Zechariah would walk in and say, “It’s over”?
When they socialised with other young couples in their village. When, one by one their friends said, “Guess what. We’ve got news. We’re going to have a baby!” How did they feel?
As Elizabeth walked down the street, and the tongues wagged, “She must have sinned in some way.” You see, in their culture, childlessness was seen as the judgement of God.
From the day they started praying, God had plans for them. From the beginning of time, God planned for them to give birth to the forerunner of the Messiah.
(Read Matt. 6:8 and Is. 65:24)
Dr. Helen Roseveare, missionary to the Congo, told the story of a mother on her mission station who died after giving birth to a premature baby. They tried to improvise an incubator, but the only hot water bottle they had was beyond repair. So they asked the children to pray for the baby and for her little sister who was now an orphan. One of the girls responded, "Dear God, please send a hot water bottle today. Tomorrow will be too late. And dear Lord, send a doll for her sister so she won't feel so lonely."
That afternoon a parcel arrived from England. The children watched as they opened it. To their surprise, under some clothing was a hot water bottle. Immediately the girl who had prayed delved deeper. She was sure God would provide the doll she prayed for. And she was right. The Heavenly Father knew of the child's faith.
Five months before that morning prayer, he had led a ladies group to include both of those specific items.
Perhaps you have prayed many times for something. You have waited for the answer, but none has come. God knows your every need. Be assured, an answer will come.
The ‘Fear Not’ of the Miraculous
(Read Luke 1:30)
At Christmas, we remember that God is a God of the miraculous. The world would never be the same. A new creation was about to come into being with the birth of Jesus.
(Read John 1:1-3)
The Baby to be born had always existed. The Baby to be born is God. The Baby to be born created the world.
These claims have not been made about any other major religious figure—Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, and so on. None of them claimed to have existed eternally. None of them claimed to be God. None of them claimed to have created the universe. None of their followers made such claims.
Yet, both Jesus and his followers made these claims. He said to his followers, "I and the father are one" (John 10:30).
Mary would remember this promise, “the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. … For nothing is impossible with God."
As she saw him turn water into wine
As she saw him touch the leper
As she saw him raise Lazarus
As she saw the empty tomb
As she saw thousand transformed at Pentecost.
Malcolm Muggeridge said, “The most profound and most erudite minds, the greatest artists and craftsmen, found no difficulty in accepting the Virgin Birth as an incontestable fact ... Are we, then, to suppose that our forebears were gullible fools, whereas we, have put aside childish things and become mature?”
But do we really believe that nothing is impossible? Do you really believe that nothing is impossible? Perhaps this Christmas, God is calling you to new faith and new obedience. Perhaps there are situations in your life that you have come to see as “impossible.” God challenges that today. With God, nothing will be impossible.
In 1899 Charles H. Duell, Director of the United States Patent Office, made this statement: "Everything that can be invented has been invented." He was so convinced of this that he tried to get President McKinley to abolish his job next year. The very next year R. A. Fessenden sent the human voice over radio waves for the first time. In 1901 the first Mercedes automobile was constructed. In 1903 the Wright Brothers successfully flew a powered airplane. In 1904 the photoelectric cell was developed. All of this only five years after Mr. Duell said nothing was left to be invented.
Perhaps, like Duell, you have come to a point where you no longer believe God can work miracles in your life. He challenges that, this Christmas.
The ‘Fear Not’ of Immediate Obedience
(Read Matt. 1:20, 24)
Though Joseph had huge questions about the strange circumstances in his life, when God spoke, he obeyed. What would his friends think when he explained who was the father of his child? Joseph obeyed.
The Bible has many examples of the need for immediate obedience: Abraham, the father of the faithful, was commanded to sacrifice his son. In blind obedience he acted, and God stepped in and honoured his obedience. The rich young ruler was not willing to obey. When faced with the challenge that Jesus gave him, he walked away sorrowful.
This Christmas, we are called, like Joseph, to renewed obedience. Renewed trust in what God tells us to do.
Dr. G. Campbell Morgan was preaching at the Keswick convention one year. He noticed a girl in the congregation who looked upset. He went to speak to her after the meeting and she explained that she felt that God was calling her to be a missionary. “Who will look after my family situation? I am needed here. How can I leave them and go to the other side of the world?” she asked.
Morgan took his Bible and showed her the verse in Acts 10:14 where God tells Peter, in a vision to “‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Not so, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’"
Morgan gave her a pen and said, “I will leave you here with God. You must decide what to do. Either score out “Not so,” or score out “Lord.” But you cannot have both. They contradict.
She sat there most of the afternoon wrestling with God. Finally, Morgan went back to see her. She was in tears. Like Joseph, she had said “yes” to God. She had scored out “Not so.”
The ‘Fear Not’ of the Gospel
(Read Luke 2:10-11, 17-18)
Finally, there is the “fear not” of the gospel. We are called, once more this Christmas, to fearlessly share the good news with friends, neighbours, and the world.
We are told that the shepherds “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” These rugged, fearless shepherds spread the good news as they went back to their fields to look after their sheep. Their lives had been changed and they could not keep it to themselves.
In his book, The Crisis in the University, Sir Walter Moberly cites the failure of evangelicals to penetrate university campuses with the gospel. To those who claim to follow Christ he says, "If one-tenth of what you believe is true, you ought to be ten times as excited as you are."
Dr. Alex Smellie says, “When I tell forth the truth that is in me, that truth becomes clearer, more vivid, more noble & wonderful to my own mind. When I avow & defend my Lord, He assumes larger proportions in my thoughts; He is dearer & more precious to my heart, so I will not hide His love within my heart.”
At the height of his worldwide fame, rock musician Alice Cooper drank a bottle of whiskey a day. His life was falling apart as was his marriage of 25 years. His wife dragged him off to church and he felt as if God was speaking to him every Sunday.
He became a Christian and he now speaks to surprised rock musicians about the reality of the Devil and the change in his life. "I have talked to some big stars about this, some really horrific characters, and you'd be surprised," he says. "The ones that you would think are the farthest gone are the ones that are the most apt to listen."
He could not keep it to himself! Can you?
Andy Scarcliffe is a retired Baptist minister from Scotland.