Christmas is a time of strong and varied feelings, isn’t it? Joy and sadness. Hope and nostalgia. Peace and discord. Love and loss. I suspect Christmas has always been that way.
Just last night, my kids and I were having a conversation about whether or not angels still show up and talk to people like they did in the Christmas story. My daughter’s kindergarten friend claims to have seen an angel; my daughter says that’s impossible. The truth is, if an angel showed up to any of us, we’d probably be terrified, just like the shepherds were in the Bible.
“There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” (Luke 2:8-12, NIV)
The angel is announcing the birth of baby Jesus, and he describes his message as one of “good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Unfortunately, the shepherds aren’t feeling like there’s good news or great joy. Quite the opposite really—they were terrified.
And I wonder if it’s more than just the sudden appearance of an angelic being that has them scared.
Have you ever received good news that brought great joy…and also scared you? What about that college acceptance letter that is good news, that brings great joy, but that means your baby is leaving, life is changing, and debt is mounting?
When I called my mom with the good news that I was engaged, there was great joy…and terror. My sister was also engaged. Two weddings within four months would strike panic in any mother-of-the-bride!
Dream jobs are good news that bring great joy and all kinds of fear—of new companies, of moving away from friends and family, of financial risk.
Good news does cause, should cause, great joy. But it also comes with its share of fear and worry. That’s okay. Life can be both joyous and scary at the same time. There’s a whole kids’ movie (great movie, by the way!) that’s about how joy and sadness often go together, that to truly experience joy, you have to sink into sadness sometimes, too.
Jesus’ birth was good news. That good news brought great joy. But it was surrounded by fear, too. The shepherds were afraid. Jesus’ parents were afraid about the pregnancy, then about King Herod. Later in life, they’d fear he had lost his mind, and of course, eventually Mary would experience the ultimate terror of watching her son be killed.
Good News! Great Joy! Fear! Terror!
The baby born in the manager becomes the man crucified on the cross. His story covers the range and scope of human feelings and experiences—from the best, to the worst, and even to the places where good and bad, where joy and fear, coincide.
Questions for Reflection:
- What good news has brought you great joy, and has also scared you?
- What are you facing right now that is complex, with one foot in the realm of “good” and one in the realm of “bad”?