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Fear & Awe

Luke 2:8-14 

    And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. [9] And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. [10] And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; [11] for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. [12] "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger." [13] And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
        [14] "Glory to God in the highest,
        And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

 Today, as we light the 4th Advent Candle, the Angel Candle, we celebrate the Angel’s message and are reminded of God’s love in sending His son.  John wrote, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 KJV) Last week, as we lit the Shepherd’s candle, we reflected upon the phrase, “for all the people.”  The good news that the Angels brought was intended for everyone–even the shepherds.  Today we do not focus so much upon the intended recipients as we do the message itself–the message of love.  It isn’t exactly a Christmas Carol, but the final verse of “At Calvary” captures the message of the Angel’s candle: “Oh, the love that drew salvations’ plan!  Oh, the grace that bro’t it down to man!  Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.”

 Yes, the hymn’s focus is probably more appropriate for a Good Friday Service than a Christmas service, yet the “good news of great joy” was about a special birth that would lead to a special death. 

 They rejoiced, but please notice that they were also afraid.  When the Angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and they were encompassed by the glory of the Lord, the scripture says "they were terribly frightened."

 Have we lost a sense of fear of God? Have we become so familiar with God that we've lost the sense of awe we should have when His name is mentioned? Have we become so pragmatic and programmed that we've drifted away from the sense of reverence that used to accompany any worship service?

 John Franklin, Prayer/Discipleship Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention recently said, "Some say become relevant, be contextual, nontraditional, change the way we do church. These things may be needed, but they are not enough. We must rediscover the 'Fear of God.'"

 Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to rediscover the "fear of God." This holy fear is woven throughout the Christmas story. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, the scripture says, "fear gripped him." (Luke 1:12). And the angel told Mary to "fear not." (Luke 1:30)

 Why did they have this holy fear? Well on one level, most of us would be a tad frightened if an angel appeared to us, wouldn't we? But on another level, this fear resulted from one thing: exposure to the glory of God. Verse 9 says, "and the glory of the Lord shone around them;"

 Wherever God's glory is, there is a holy fear.

 God's glory descended when Jesus healed the demoniac, resulting in a holy fear. "And they came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the "legion"; and they became frightened." (Mark 5:15 NASB)

 A holy fear accompanied God's glory when Jesus walked on the water. "When therefore they had rowed about three or four miles, they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened." (John 6:19 NASB)

 A holy fear accompanied God's glory when Jesus rose from the grave. "Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'" (Matthew 27:54)

 So there is no wonder that a holy fear accompanied the announcement of God becoming man to save His people from their sins. It was a moment in time when God's glory broke through on earth. It was as if heaven couldn't contain it anymore. The angel's words were a trumpet blast, proclaiming "Joy to the World, the Lord has come."

 The creator God, was about to become man, but before He did, he sent the angel that stands in His presence to tell a few people, and with the message, came His glory, accompanied by a holy fear.

 Consider the thought–God became man and dwelt among us.  He who created us, became one of us so that He could restore us to Himself.  Think about the power in that act. 

 Look into the flickering light of the Angel candle.  Beside it is the prophesy candle, reminding us that the coming of the messiah was anticipated by men of old.  Across from it is the Bethlehem candle, proclaiming that greatness comes out of weakness and that Jesus came into the world in a humble village, born to a humble family in a humble barn.  Right beside it is the Shepherd candle reminding us that the good news is for all the people.  Now look at the Angel candle, the tallest of the four burning candles, hovering above the rest, pointing the way to the fifth candle, the one we will light next week—the Christ candle.  As we move from anticipation to humiliation to participation we now celebrate proclamation.  Christ is coming.  Not in the distant future, but now.  The Angels of the Lord sound the trumpet, He’s on His way.  The long anticipated Savior will be born in a humble environment and his birth, life, death and resurrection will be for all the people.

 There is only one response to this news:  fear and awe that precedes genuine worship.  But that isn’t the end, it is the beginning.  The message of the Angel was “fear not.”  We begin with a holy fear—a sense of awe, but it doesn’t end there.  This type of fear is a deep respect, a sense of adoration, but the message of the angel isn’t meant to evoke the other type of fear—the debilitating sense of dread or uncertainty. 

 Now, for the first time in human history there is no need to fear, because now there is hope.  We need not live in fear and dread of destruction, now there is hope for tomorrow.  The message of the Angels is that hope.  While we need to recover a holy fear—a sense of reverence, it should not paralyze us, instead it should lead us to fully embrace the liberating message of the angels that there is good news that will bring great joy.

 Has there been a time in your life when you’ve accepted that good news?  If not, why not do so today.  In simple faith, accept the Christ of Christmas and welcome Him into your heart and life.

 Romans 10:9 says, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” (NASB) Would you confess Him as your Lord and accept Him as your Savior today? 

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