“There were shepherds camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them, and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.” — Luke 2:10–12 (The Message Translation).
Today is the third Sunday of Advent, a season of waiting, preparation, and repentance. It is a time to quiet our hearts, separate ourselves from the busyness of our fast-paced society, and turn our eyes to the promises of our coming Messiah. All around the world, believers will light candles on this Sunday to illuminate the darkness and wait in joyful expectation for a Savior promised, but One who had not yet come. Today, we join them by lighting the third advent candle, the pink candle (i.e., The Shepherds Candle), which symbolizes joy at the soon-coming of Jesus. I have also curated a Spotify playlist¹ centered on songs of joy to accompany this week. Nothing would make me happier than you joining this time of reflection, hope, and declaration.
Reading Luke 2, we find shepherds going about their typical day, grazing and watering their flocks, protecting them from human theft and predators, etc. This day was most likely an ordinary day, one that I imagine filled with the familiar time-passing laughter and hazing of the newer and naive shepherds. One of my favorite Christmas passages comes into play among these characters when the angel announces, “Do not be afraid!”
In my times of reflection, I’ve come to believe that the order of this angelic declaration is everything. Before you can receive joy or the promise of a Messiah, you must stop fearing what is in front of you. In this case, a supernatural being breaks into the midnight hour of an ordinary evening; in our case, love is breaking through into a diagnosis of a sickness, into the repeating phrases/actions of generational curses, into a place of job loss, etc. Advent’s beauty is that the messenger has broken through in the middle of our realities, the places we live, play, and work, and speaks, “Do not be afraid!” You are not what was said over you. You are not the mistakes you have made. You are not the diagnosis given. You are not ________ (fill in the blank). Stop being afraid of what is before you. Stop being fearful, so you can focus on the joy of what is coming to pass. A Savior has come for you in the middle of your mundane. He is meeting you where you are. And we will not be afraid!
Many of us know Philippians 4 with the following words, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again.” I would love to share my favorite version of this passage from The Message Translation: “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute! Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:4–7, (MSG).
Dear heavenly Father, I pray your message will break through the dark of our deepest midnight and into the mundane during this Advent season. We pray for a joyful life as we look to the face of The Messiah. Let our ears be tuned to the reminder that a Savior has been born and born for us. Let that truth free us from all things that steal our joy. We pray that our minds would be filled with all things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious — the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. (Philippians 4:8, MSG). In Jesus’ name, amen.