17 December 2004

"Fear not..." Luke 2:10

This is an interesting command. A command that came AFTER the shining glory of the Lord filled the shepherds with fear.

Ask yourself; “What if the shepherds were not first consumed with fear? What if their reaction was more cavilier?” The trite response is that they were arrested by the glory of God. God’s presence was tangible and profound so of course they feared.

Let’s examine that thought for a moment. As I ascend the Big Thompson canyon and catch a glimpse of the peaks of the Never Summer Range - is this glory not arresting enough? When my one year-old son casts a piercing gaze in my direction, smiles and says “hi da,” is this moment devoid of the arresting quality of glory that these shepherds beheld? I am concerned with the heart that doesn’t see the flight of a butterfly as pure miracle.

Could it be that God isn’t shortchanging us of glory? Could it actually be that everyday on this blue planet we are faced with eternal glory in the Father’s creative brush strokes? I think so. In fact it seems to me that we have shortchanged God. Our hearts are much too small to take in the wonder that bombards us everyday.

This is the fallen nature of man at its summit. God’s first command to Adam was one of freedom and enjoyment (“you may eat from any tree…”). Since the fall we have moved from enjoyment to discontent - from pure wonder to numb complacency. Something about all this glory and wonder exposes our nakedness and so we hide. The human heart has been hiding from the glory of God since Genesis 3 because it is His glory that exposes our vulnerability. We are bound to a sinful longing for satisfaction in things other than God. But this exposure is absolutely critical to the redemptive journey of the heart.

I believe that, if the shepherds were not first filled with fear, the angels would have said sternly “Repent for your lack of wonder and fear.” Could these advent angels be saying this to us today? For the coming of God into our world should first bring a deep conviction. We have been exposed and our fallen selfishness is naked before our Creator. And this is a precious exposure.

The Christmas story is filled with characters that were humble enough to first be afraid in the presence of the glory of God. This could be why they were chosen. Fear of God precedes our appreciation of His abundant grace. Indeed, fear for God precedes our love for God.

“Only when we have felt the terror of the [coming of God], can we recognize the incomparable kindness.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:31

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

In this season we remember the First Advent to remind us that we are presently waiting for the Second Advent. The Lord of Glory will arrive again and with Him will come fear. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father. But, for many people, this fear will not precede their repentance – it will be too late. Are our hearts prepared for the coming of Christ? Are they prepared for his coming today? He will come only to those prepared hearts.

So, let us not proceed in our relationship with God without first experiencing fear and trembling. These are the doorways to the gratitude, joy and freedom that accompanies the arresting love of Jesus Christ. The angel spoke “Fear not…” and THEN brought “good news of great joy.” May the arrival of God in this world bring us naked before Him in conviction and then fully clothed before Him in worship. That is the celebration of the Advent season.


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