My wife and I have a tradition of celebrating a “Jesse Tree” as part of our Christmas season. Each night, we read a passage from the Bible which refers to a member in the family line of Jesus Christ (Jesse was the father of King David) or a significant event of the work of God in the salvation of the humanity. My wife made ornaments which represent each of these readings and we add one to our Christmas tree each night.
A few nights ago, we were reading about the giving of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy. A lot of people are familiar with all of the “Thou shalt not” statements, but there is a little preface which really caught our attention.
Moses says this to the people of Israel: “I was standing between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain” (Deut 5:5).
God wanted to speak to the people from a mountain, and there was fire and other severe weather accompanying His presence there. The people were afraid to go into the presence of God, so they asked Moses to go for them, and promised to do whatever he said when he came back from listening to God (Exodus 19:16-19; 20:18-21).
The people were afraid, and that fear kept them from coming into the presence of God.
“Do not fear” (or “fear not” or “do not be afraid”) is perhaps one of the most repeated phrases in the Bible–from God’s interactions with Abraham (Gen 15:1) to His final appearance (Rev 1:17). Nearly every angelic encounter is accompanied by these words, and the words come up in the Christmas story as well, when both Joseph (Matt 1:20) and Mary (Luke 1:30) are informed of God’s plan, and also when the shepherds are accosted out in the fields (Luke 2:10).
In each case, there is a warning: fear will cause you to miss God. If the shepherds cowered in fright out in the fields, put their fingers in their ears trying to ignore the angels’ message, they would have missed out on the Savior in a manger. If Joseph had given into fear, he would have abandoned Mary and missed out on raising the Son of God.
The people of Israel, at the foot of the mountain with their leader Moses, gave in to fear and missed out on a face-to-face meeting with the God of the Universe. They were afraid, and gave up their right to personally engage with God, instead choosing to use an intermediary. And so it continued, for generations, centuries, and millennia…most Hebrew people only experiencing God through the words of someone else.
Christmas is about God coming to have an encounter with us. He’s not afraid; He didn’t remain far off. He came to be here, to be near.
And now it’s our turn to respond. Will we tremble at the thought of relating to God? Will we fear judgment, condemnation, uncertainty, life change, ridicule and seek instead to remain at a distance from Him? Or will we, like the shepherds, overcome our fear and proclaim, “Let us go and see this thing which has happened”?