DON’T BE AFRAID
Fear plays a big part in each of the episodes in the Christmas story. Joseph was afraid of what people would think (Mt. 1:20) Herod feared losing his power. (Mt. 2:3) The angels that appeared to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds in Luke 2 all had to say, “Don’t be afraid!”
There are a lot of things to be afraid of. Most of us, most of the time are able to keep fear under control. But every once in a while, we get too focused on a dire possibility and need someone to tell us not to be afraid. Telling someone not to fear doesn’t usually help, but meditating on two names given to Jesus might.
Jesus means “The LORD is salvation”
Jesus’ name is sometimes pronounced Joshua or Y’shua. It was a popular name at the time, remembering Moses’ successor and the mighty general of Israel’s army who led the people to take over the promised land. The name means, “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation”. Jesus is Yahweh in his saving work. He doesn’t leave us alone. He comes himself to save us. That’s good news. Whatever our messes, he can save us out of them.
Emmanuel means “God with us.”
Matthew adds the comment that Jesus’ birth would be a fulfillment of the promise of “Emmanuel”. Nobody named their kid “Emmanuel” back then. It means, “God with us”. Perhaps that might give a kid a big head! But Jesus is “God with us”. And that is a good antidote for fear. If the one with you is stronger than anything that might threaten you, you can walk securely. Whatever you face, he is with you in it.
In the little baby in Bethlehem, God comes to save us and to be with us. These are the dual aspects of Jesus’ identity and calling that we put our faith in. Salvation and Incarnation. Jesus saves us from our sins and the penalty of them by his sacrifice on the cross. Jesus is God with us as a human who experiences all that means and loves us in it.
Only a God who is with us can save us. He is and he did. Thanks be to God!