I was struck by a very interesting fact this morning as I was preparing for work. My daily morning routine includes reading from a chapter from the Bible while I wait for my hair to dry a little bit before braving the elements. I’ve always found this to be a fantastic way to start my day, and I’ve also found that this practice fits seamlessly into my morning routine. I like morning showers- they wake me up- but I don’t like going outside with dripping wet hair (I also don’t like waking up any earlier than I absolutely have to, which means that blow-drying my hair every morning is out of the question), so reading the Bible is a nice way to pass the time needed for my hair to dry somewhat. This morning, while I was reading from the second book of Chronicles, I was struck by a very small sentence: “Be not afraid.” I’ve gotten used to hearing that phrase, but always in the context of the New Testament, and particularly the story of Jesus Christ’s birth. I’d never given much thought to this command could be found elsewhere in the Scriptures. When I hear the phrase, I always think of Mary and Joseph, and this morning I was struck by the fact that they were by no means the first people to be told, “Be not afraid.”
I was already well aware of the fact that the phrase, “Be not afraid,” occurred quite a few times throughout the Bible. In fact, I had even heard that the phrase could be found in the Scriptures 365 times, once for every day of the year (unless it’s a leap year). I had always taken that statement for granted, but with a little research, I realized that this statement isn’t really true. If we’re going to be completely honest, the phrase can only be found 7 times in all of Scripture, while the phrase, “Do not be afraid,” can be found 29 times. Thirty-six statements is still a lot, and if you were to combine those with all the times where people have been told not to fear or to trust in the Lord, you’d probably have enough Scripture passages to fill a calendar (check out this website for a list of 365 Scripture passage concerned with fear). Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to document every piece of Scripture that instructs people not to be afraid, but I do have time to reflect a little bit on this common command.
Some of the most important people in all of salvation history have been told that they did not need to fear. Abraham. Issac. Moses. Joshua. Ruth. David. Elijah. Jeremiah. Daniel. Mary. Joseph. The shepherds. The apostles. Paul. And those are just the names that most people would recognize. Even if the phrase, “Be not afraid,” can’t be found in the Bible 365 times, I would venture to say that the command not to fear, however it is phrased, is probably the most common statement in all of Scripture. Each of these stories is unique, but they all remind us of the love of God and the constant invitation for us to trust in Him.
The first that really struck me about theses people was the fact that they all began as “nobodies.” They were not rich and famous before they answered the call of the Lord. God did not choose them for their wealth, abilities, or prestige. They were not chosen because of what they did, but because of who they were. Many of these people qualified as the least of the least, but the Lord chose to elevate them to a higher position than any of them could have ever dreamed. Abraham was a relatively unknown man with a wife that was known to be barren, but then God made him the father of many nations and Sarah’s descendants as numerous as the stars. Moses stuttered, but God used him as His mouthpiece to the chosen people. Joshua was a mere apprentice, but God chose him to lead the Hebrew people into the Promised Land. David was a shepherd and the youngest of eight, but God established him as king of Israel. Mary was just a young girl, the daughter of Anne and Joachim, but God chose her to be the mother of God. Joseph was a carpenter, but God chose him to be the foster-father of Jesus Christ. The apostles were fishermen and even tax collectors, but God selected each and every one of them to be the first proclaimers of the Good News that the Savior of the world had finally come. When these people came into the world, I doubt that most people predicted the amazing future that lay before them. I’m sure these chosen ones knew what was in store for them either. God worked miracles through each and every one of these people: He made a barren woman the mother of many nations, a stutterer the divine mouthpiece, a shepherd His king, a virgin the mother of God, a carpenter the Holy Family’s protector, and tax collectors and fishermen the first proclaimers of the Gospel.
God transformed these supposed “nobodies” into some of the most important people in all salvation history. They were each charged with a very significant mission. Abraham was to be the father of many nations. Moses was to lead the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt. David was to become king of Israel. Mary was to become the mother of God, and Joseph was to be the protector of the Holy Family. The lowly shepherds were to become the first witnesses to the birth of Christ, and fishermen and tax collectors were to become the first witnesses to His resurrection. God gave each of these people very important, yet difficult, missions. Abraham had to endure the ridicule of his family for years before Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Moses had to challenge a pharaoh and lead an entire people out of Egypt. David had to conquer Goliath before becoming king. Mary had to raise the Son of God, walking with Him even as He approached His death. Joseph was responsible for protecting the immaculately conceived Mary and her divine Son Jesus Christ for the rest of his life. The apostles had to endure persecution and sometimes even death in the name of Jesus Christ and for the sake of the Gospel message.
Each of these chosen people was charged with a very difficult mission that include both joy and suffering. God’s instruction that they should not fear always either immediately followed or followed by the announcement of some incredible mission. “Look up at the sky and count the stars- if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.” “I will send you to the pharaoh, to set my people free.” “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus. He will be great, and He will called the Son of the Most High…the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.” None of these announcements were easy to accept- some of them seemed impossible, or at least the one being called did not believe that they would be capable of such fantastic feats. Many of them experienced doubt, and fear of some sort. Many of them questioned what had been announced to them, and a few even challenged what had been told to them. Abraham immediately felt the need to remind God of his barren wife. Moses cited his speech impediment as a reason why God has chosen the wrong person. Mary asked how a child could have been conceived in her womb when she’d had no relations with any man. Jesus wondered how he could take Mary into his home, when she had just told him that she had conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit and would give birth to the Son of God.
In the face of such amazing announcements, it is no wonder that God had to instruct these chosen ones not to fear. It is no surprise that they should have feared, doubted, or at least wondered at this incredible mission that they had been given. Some doubted whether what they had been promised could happen. Others doubted whether they were the right person for the job. Still others wondered how such a thing could happen to them. But in the end, they all trusted the Lord. They each gave their fiat, and no ‘yes’ was more perfect than Mary’s. Let us all look to Mary as the perfect example of trust in the Lord, and of that perfect love that casts out all fear. And like Mary, let us respond with our own ‘yes’ when the Lord calls us to whatever life He has planned for us.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!