“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” –Frederick Buechner
Reading a Bible storybook to my preschoolers one evening, we opened to a chapter where an angel appears on the scene.
“What do you think he’s going to say first?” I asked my kids with a knowing grin. Beaming at me, they shouted “Don’t be afraid!”
“God’s always saying that, isn’t He” I mused.
“Yeah” my son replied. “He is.”
It’s almost funny, actually. In the same way the highway is suddenly full of the car model you never saw until you bought it, you’d be surprised how often the greeting “don’t be afraid” pops up once you notice. It’s like the Biblical form of “Hey, how’s it going?”
“Hey, don’t be afraid.”
It makes sense, when you think about it. If a large man, shining with the authority and glory of God was suddenly standing before me, I’d need some reassurance before I could pay attention. But this doesn’t take away the significance of the words. A bully would use this shock-value for his own benefit; a tyrant would arrange these sorts of fear-based encounters to increase his power.
But not God. No, the one person we actually have reason to tremble before goes out of his way—again and again—to set us at ease.
“Don’t be afraid.”
And so the kings, priests, and prophets of Israel encountered God with these words, and passed them on to the people. Later, Zechariah heard these words from the messenger of the Lord, then Mary, then Joseph. Then the shepherds. Do not be afraid. The man responsible for all these angel appearances spoke them as well: “Do not be afraid, little flock” Jesus said. “Do not be afraid, Daughter of Zion. “My friends, do not be afraid.” “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Luke 12:32, John 12:15, Luke 12:4, John 14:27).
Do you think he’s trying to tell us something?
There is danger in this world, suffering, pain, and difficulty. Following Christ is not a way to escape; in fact, Jesus promises we’ll have even more trouble because of him. No, it isn’t a promise of ease that we rest in, but the promise of presence. His presence, with us. Always.
He is standing before you today. Don’t see him? No matter. He’ll stay. And guess what words are on the tip of his tongue?
“Don’t be afraid.”
What about you? What real and terrifying situations face you today?