Best Christmas message: Fear not

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 24, 2014

“You are made for joy. We are made for joy.” The words echoed off the walls of the small country church.

My husband, daughter and I sat with my father-in-law in a pew close to the back. On this Sunday morning, the preacher was lighting the fourth Advent candle, the candle of joy.

This candle is the angel candle, a reminder of the heavenly hosts that arrived to proclaim the holy birth. And so, for his final message before Christmas, the minister chose to talk about joy.

Those words, “You are made for joy,” grabbed my attention, but his next words went straight to my heart.

“Do you remember the first thing the angel said to the shepherds?” the preacher asked.

Immediately, I knew the words read so many times in Sunday school and by Daddy on Christmas Eve.

Yes, I heard them many times, but the message they carried never really got through to me. Now, as I heard them in my head and heard the preacher repeat them, I had one of those ahh, haa moments.

“Fear not.”

That is what the Bible tells us the angel said to the shepherds in the darkness of that first Christmas. As I heard that phrase echo off the walls, I knew the message of Christmas was in those two words — fear not.

Fear is what often keeps me from experiencing joy. And most of the time, it is fear I create in my head and it never materializes in the ways I imagined. “Fear not.” Wow, if I trusted that message, it would be the gift of a lifetime.

Then, from the pulpit came more words attributed to the angels.

“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, …”

Great joy. The preacher repeated that phrase to allow it to sink in. Then he continued expanding on the idea that we are made for joy.

He talked about our light, the light born into the world on Christmas. He said when we know that light and hold it within us, we can be joyous no matter what is swirling around us on the outside.

As he spoke, I found myself nodding in agreement because I’ve experienced times when that light made it possible to be fine even when it seemed dark all around. My heart heard his words and sang “yes” in agreement.

He continued talking about how true joy never comes from outside experiences and material things. How if that is where we look for joy, it will always be elusive.

As he concluded his message, he touched a flame to the tallest candle, the candle signifying the birth of Christ. As the light from that candle glowed at the front of the church, I thought again about the meaning of this holiday.

“Fear not. Behold I bring you tidings of great joy…”

I do not think it matters what belief system you follow, what religion you call your own or if you choose no religion, Christmas has a message for everyone. Or to put it in the words the Bible says the angels spoke, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

Yes, all people are, as Brother Woody Clark said Sunday, made for joy. The message of Christmas is that joy is possible. Joy is our birthright. Joy is what creation moves toward, even when we, with our limited vision, don’t see it.

As the service ended, I walked out into the cool midday air and looked up at the sky, at the tall trees and into the faces of my family.

“Yes,” I thought. “This is joy, this moment, this breath, the gift of being alive to celebrate another Christmas.”

So, on the eve of the big day, I send you the gift of the words I heard in that small church. As you read them, I wish for you a joy-filled Christmas.

“Fear not. You are made for joy.”