Once again the world celebrates Christmas in the midst of crises so deep that millions are not certain they will survive this decade.
Some years ago I flew over a little town in the beautiful Austrian Alps. As I looked down from 30,000 feet, I could not help but remember a scene that some say took place 160 years earlier. It was Christmas Eve, and in Obendorf, the Reverend Joseph Mohr, the 26-year-old assistant pastor of St. Nicholas Church, was troubled.
As the story goes, mice had eaten into the bellows of the old church organ, and there would be no music at the Christmas Eve service. So Mohr sat down and quickly wrote a poem of six stanzas, celebrating the glory of the birth of Jesus Christ. He brought the poem to his friend Franz Gruber and requested that the musician set the words to music.
That night Gruber and Mohr sang their melody, little dreaming that this song would go around the world and become possibly the greatest Christmas carol of all time: “Silent Night, Holy Night.”
But much of the world today is not silent, and it is not holy. It is a world of political, economic and social turmoil, standing on the brink of Armageddon. If there’s one word that seems to describe our world and its mood today, it is fear. It seems like every day the headlines scream of some new crisis in our world that threatens to plunge us into chaos. Just as real and just as tragic are the personal crises that never make the headlines. The marriage that is falling apart. The heartache of a broken relationship. The despair of a lost job. The threat of illness. The slavery of a drug or alcohol problem that seems unbreakable.
Jesus spoke of a time when men’s hearts would fail them for fear. We seem to be living in just such a time as that today. “Silent night, holy night” seems like a romantic dream or even a false hope that vanishes in the face of the realities of life.
But there can be peace in our hearts when we turn to the only true source of peace: Jesus Christ.
Think back to that first Christmas about 2,000 years ago. It was probably late at night on the plains just a few miles outside the little village of Bethlehem. The stars shone like diamonds in the sky, and a little band of weary shepherds had settled down to sleep on the cold, rocky ground. They had no reason to expect that this night would be different from any other night, just as you may think that nothing is going to change in your own life. But God had other plans. This was the night that would be the most important night in human history, the night when God Himself would come to Earth. Listen to Luke’s account of that remarkable night: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:9-11, KJV).
Can you imagine the fear that must have gripped the shepherds’ hearts? One translation says, “and they were terrified,” but the first words of the angels to those shepherds were “fear not.” Fear not, because Christ has come, and He makes all the difference. Because Christ has come, you need not be bound by fear and despair. You can know that all is calm and all is bright because of Christ.
Four times in the Gospel accounts of Christmas, the angels use that expression, “Fear not.” Zechariah, an old man, was filled with fear when he was told that he would be the father of John the Baptist, who would be the forerunner of the Messiah. The angel told him, “Fear not” (Luke 1:13, KJV). Mary was told that she would have the awesome privilege of bearing the Son of God. Fear filled her at first, but the angel said, “Fear not, Mary” (Luke 1:30, KJV). Joseph, betrothed to the virgin Mary, was filled with fear and embarrassment when he discovered she was pregnant, but the angel declared, “Fear not … for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20, KJV). Then, as we have already read, when the Holy Child was born, the angel came to those shepherds and said, “Fear not” (Luke 2:10, KJV).
And that is what God says to us today. No matter what our fear may be, He says to us right now, “Fear not.” Fear not, because Christ has come.
There are, of course, different kinds of fear. Not all fear is wrong. It is right for a child to fear a hot stove or a sharp knife, because those can harm him. It is right for us also to fear sin and Satan, for they can bring devastation.
The Bible also tells us to fear God. That does not mean that we’re to be in terror of Him, shrinking from Him and even fleeing from Him—although we should fear His judgment—but it does mean we’re to have a reverence and respect for Him, knowing that He is holy and all powerful.
The angels tell us, “Fear not.” Why? Because there is no longer any reason to be gripped and enslaved by fear. Think of the fears that so easily assault us. There is the fear of problems we face and what might happen to us. Jesus declared, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He invites you today to bring your cares and your burdens to Him. He said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Or there is the fear of loneliness. You’re never alone when you know Christ. He has promised, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). You were created for fellowship with God, and when you come to Christ, He makes you a child of God. You have a special relationship with Him, and nothing can take that away, because Christ made it possible through His death on the cross.
Then there’s the fear of death. There was another time in the Bible when the angel came and said, “Fear not.” It was spoken to the women who came to the tomb of Jesus early on that first Easter morning and discovered the tomb was empty. “Fear not: … He is not here: for he is risen” (Matthew 28:5-6, KJV).
Christ is the answer to death. By His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, He took away the sting of death. He took away our sins by dying on the cross in our place, and by putting your faith in Him as your Lord and Savior you can know the joy of forgiveness and peace with God.
Christmas was just the beginning. Ahead was the cross, and beyond the cross was the empty tomb.
Christ has come to take away the source of our fears. Fears are real. Christ does not tell us that we should simply cheer up and they’ll all go away. It’s right to fear death if we do not know Christ. It is right to fear loneliness or the problems that seem to overwhelm us, because those things are very real. But so is Christ, and when we realize that He has dealt with sin and made it possible for us to be reconciled to God, then we do not need to be paralyzed by fear any longer. Instead, we should do what the shepherds did: Come to Christ. Come to Him with our sins and cast them at His feet, then we can know Silent Night, Holy Night. Then we can know what the Bible calls the peace of God that passes all understanding.
Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
Christmas tells us what it cost God to save the world: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Christ is God’s great Christmas gift to the world. The Scripture says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
However, the hope that was given to those shepherds on that first Christmas morning is available only to those who believe. To know the pardon, joy, peace and power that come through Christ, we must personally receive Him by faith. Faith must be real if the heart is to be changed.
There are many of you who long for peace in your own hearts this Christmastime. You, too, can meet God at the foot of the cross and find the peace that you have searched for so long.
You say, “What do I have to do?” Well, you have to turn from your sins, receive Christ as your Lord and Savior and commit your life to Him. He will come into your heart, and this Christmas you can spend knowing the Christ of Christmas for the first time.
Whatever your need, Jesus can meet it. Whatever the desires and longings of your heart, Christ can touch your life and transform you and make you a new person. I’m going to ask you to make that commitment and that decision tonight. What a wonderful time of the year to say “yes” to Jesus Christ and let Him change your life.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Scripture quotations marked KJV are taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version.