by Andrew Anderson
THE Christmas story of the birth of Jesus is a story with a powerful and enduring appeal. Each year we gladly celebrate it in the cards we send and receive, in the carols we sing, in our Christmas decorations, in school nativity plays, and in church services.
Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus in the stable, the baby laid in a manger, the angels' appearance to the shepherds, the wise men following the star and coming to worship Jesus with their gifts.
We love the story! It has warmth and a comfort that perhaps reminds us of the time when we celebrated Christmas as little children in our families, and which remain as especially happy memories for many of us.But closer examination of the story in the Bible shows us that it was for those involved a time of anxiety, and even great fear. The words "do not be afraid" run throughout the narrative.When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she would give birth to Jesus his first words were "do not be afraid, Mary". The angel who appeared to Joseph to tell him about the child Mary was carrying says to him "do not be afraid". When the angel appeared to the shepherds to tell them of Jesus' birth his first words were also "do not be afraid". We need to hear this because we are anxious and fearful and there is much we find threatening. Our personal circumstances this Christmas may be difficult. The credit crunch is bringing misery to many. Terrorism is rarely out of the news. Many live as victims of injustice and cruelty. But the message of that first Christmas at Bethlehem still has power to change lives and renew our world for the better – "a Saviour has been born to you", "peace on earth and goodwill towards all people".If we can open our lives and accept the loving invitation of God for us in Jesus Christ, and if we can share that love in our care for others, then the Christmas message will lessen our fears and bring us all comfort and joy.