Don’t be afraid.
This is what angels say to people when they show up: Don’t be afraid. Sometimes, the command is a very practical word meant to deal with the present situation. A person has just seen an angel, which is, literally, no small thing. The person is quite rightly scared. Such is the case with Zechariah, who is ‘startled, and gripped with fear’ when an angel appears (Luke 1:12). But then there is also Mary, who was ‘greatly troubled’ (different descriptions, different responses) by the angel’s visit (Luke 1:29).
Don’t be afraid. We can take this as the angel attempting to calm down a person on the verge of hysteria, having seen an angel. Maybe another possibility, too–that the angel is speaking into a deeply human condition, to say: Don’t be afraid now.
For those born into and influenced by sin, so much has gone wrong, both internally and externally. That is, I am messed up by sin, and so is the world I inhabit. One effect of sin’s reign is this disruption that in turn leaves us uneasy, which in turn makes us prone to fear. Indeed, one of sin’s effects (and tools, but that’s another story) is fear.
God, who seeks to rescue and redeem, means to turn back the effects of sin, and does this in a couple of ways. One is through love (John says that perfect love drives out fear). Another is through encouragement.
I like to think that a lot of what people need is instruction. My bent is toward teaching, and, as a parent, I’ve helped raise three kids–I know the value of and need for education. When I listen to the angel, tho, a different idea surfaces. Sounds to me like the angel is saying, to people like Zechariah and Mary (that is, well-meaning, devout, open and willing people), You need courage. Makes sense for people in or newly rescued from a world where fear is the stock in trade; makes sense when our hearts are overburdened by fears of different kinds.
What a great Christmas message: the sin that has for so long pushed you around is on its way out, unable to withstand the onslaught of God’s coming king. So be of good courage; be full of courage–and don’t be afraid.