Isaiah 6:1-5
Luke 1:5-13

Most of us have heard of Claustrophobia, but when was the last time you heard someone refer to ‘Xenophobia’? Xenophobia is the ‘fear of strangers or foreigners’ or ‘of anything strange or foreign.’

Like an awe-inspiring angel of the Lord suddenly and without warning appearing where and when least expected? Zechariah, Mary, the shepherds; they all experienced an ‘appearing’ and those appearings caused a xenophobic reaction in all of them as it would you and me.

A couple of weeks ago when we were studying Isaiah, I challenged my Disciple students by saying something like, ‘if you unequivocally and without a shadow of a doubt knew that God Almighty was sitting on His throne in that room behind you how many of you would jump up and vault right in there?’ On the other hand, if I were to charge each of you $5 for the chance to look through a little peephole in that wall back there to see God Almighty seated on His throne without Him knowing you were looking there would be a line down this aisle and clear out the door and I would be flush with cash.

My mother loves to tell the story of how she took me and my two brothers to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho when we were only 6, 7 and 8 years old. How, when it came to the scene when Anthony Perkins wielded that butcher knife, my mom noticed that all three of us had thrown our coats over our heads and that all three of us were also peeking out at the big screen.

In a similar way, there is something about the supernatural, the otherness of God, that both attracts human beings and repels us at the same time. We are mysteriously drawn to it and yet the closer we get the more we want to run away.

Is it possible that God is the ultimate object of our xenophobia?

That He is the ultimate foreigner; the mysterious stranger who threatens our security? That He is too awesome, too holy, too other-worldly for us? That in His presence we quake and tremble? That meeting Him personally may be our greatest trauma? That the real reason we fear death is because it implies meeting our Maker?

Could it be that there are some of us here today who, like Zechariah, fear that God isn’t going to answer our prayers? That perhaps we have done something that has caused God to turn His back on us?

Could it be that there are some of us here today who, like Mary, are fearful of what God might require of you if you were to fully give yourself over to Him?

Could it be that there are some of us here today who, like the shepherds, are terrified in the presence the holy?

Could it be true that there are some here today who fear that God is out to get us just waiting for us to mess up so He can say, “I told you so!”

Could it be true that some of us are living in fear of standing before God someday? We know what lurks in our heart of hearts and we know that if God knew we’d be in big trouble. But then we realize, of course, that God does know. And when we come to that conclusion, like Isaiah, we too quake in our boots.

Could it be that there are some of us here today, who fear that for whatever reason God does not love us? Oh for sure there was a time when He did but you see, but I’ve messed up and now He’s disappointed in me, or even worse, mad at me.

Could it be that there are some of us here today, who fear that for whatever reason God has given up on us? Oh for sure there was a time we were on the same page but now somehow I got off track and I’m no longer confident God has my back, that perhaps He has abandoned us.

If so, “Fear not!”

“Fear not,” said the angel to Zechariah, “for God has heard your prayer.”
“Fear not,” said the angel to Mary, “for you have found favor with God.”
“Fear not,” said the angel to the shepherds, “for I bring you good news of a great joy!”

The Good News of the Christmas message that Gabriel was conveying to these first-century people, and to us, is that God is not mad at us. He is mad about us!

God does not wish to be known as the God of the Throne Room filled with smoke and supernatural beings flying all around. He is not some far off deity that who has His all-roving eye trained on you and I waiting for us to screw up so He can throw some thunder and lightning our way.

The message of Christmas is that God came to dwell among us! And He did so in as non-threatening a manner as possible; fully dependent, fully vulnerable. He came as an infant baby. That speaks volumes about God, doesn’t it!

Kathy Mattea is one of many who has recorded the beautiful Christmas song, Mary, Did You Know? in which the singer asks, “Mary did you know that when you kiss your little baby boy, you’ve kissed the face of God?” Imagine that; God wanted to be kissed, and held, and cuddled, and loved.

In other words, God dearly desires to win our hearts. What better way to begin to win over someone’s heart than a baby?!!

An anonymous author once said:

that we cannot gaze long at the transfigured Christ
for His shining glory hurts our eyes
that we cannot gaze long at the towel-robed Christ
for His humble service embarrasses us
that we cannot gaze long at the scarlet-robed Christ
for His mockery angers and infuriates us
that we cannot gaze long at the crucified Christ
for His pain and shame grieve us
that’s why we love Christmas
we can gaze as long as we like at the baby Jesus.

But the writing also serves to remind us that the little Lord Jesus who lay down His sweet head is the same Lord Jesus who laid down His life 33 years later in Jerusalem.

He has saved us from having to live our lives in fear; fear of God, fear of having to one day stand before God and yes, even the fear of death.

For now, in Christ Jesus, God wants to cuddle us, to hold us, to love us and to bless our lives the way he did Zechariah and Mary and the shepherds. “Fear not, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). Joy to the world!

Isn’t that marvelous, isn’t that wonderful; doesn’t that make you want to sing a song of wonder?

“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, God has heard your prayer.” And he who was initially afraid sings a song of wonder: “Praise be to the Lord God of Israel because He has come and redeemed His people (Luke 1:67).

“Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God and you will give birth to a baby and you will name Him Jesus and He will be called the Son of the Most High.” And she sings the first line of her 10 verse song: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (1:46-47).

“Don’t be afraid, shepherds, for I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people for the Savior has been born today in Bethlehem.” And after going to Bethlehem to witness the event with their own eyes, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).

I love the definition of ‘Wonder;’ ‘a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.’ You better believe it!

At Christmastime, there is a heavenly excitement of wonder that fills the hearts of God’s people as once again we realize the magnitude of God’s love for us! Wonder, wonder, wonder of all wonders! “You shall call His name Jesus,” said the angel, “because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:23).

Nathaniel Olson writes of how the world is full of wonders:

There are wonders in nature, science, medicine, and inventions. In fact the world is one big wonder. Salt is a wonder. When I think that salt is composed of two poisonous substances, I am filled with wonder. How is it possible that salt, which is necessary to life, is composed of sodium and chlorine, either of which, if taken individually, would kill you? It’s a wonder! Water is a wonder. Its chemical formula is H20; two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. Oxygen is highly flammable. Hydrogen readily burns. Unite hydrogen and oxygen into water and you can put out fires with it! That’s another wonder! Salvation is the wonder of wonders! How God can take a poor, vile, hopeless sinner, and transform him into a respectable person is the greatest wonder on this earth. Is it happening? Yes, it’s happening every day. On the skid rows of our cities, in wealthy and poor homes, in jungles, in Chinese houseboats; in fact, whenever any soul wants Christ, the wonder of the new birth is taking place. People who read and believe that Christ is the Saviors revealed in God’s Word, are finding that they know the wonder of all wonders. 1

Pastor and author, T. D. Jakes writes:

We can’t help but wonder why He loves us so much that He died on a cross to make sure we wouldn’t have to suffer for our own sins, but He did. We can’t help but wonder why He always thinks the best of us, but He does. We can’t help but wonder why He never gives up on us, but He doesn’t. We can’t help but wonder, when we think about how He heals broken hearts and restores human souls, but He does.

Jesus is so wonderful, so awesome, so pure in His love for us. There is nothing but goodness in Jesus and everything He does is born out of a love that is larger the human mind can fully comprehend. And what else is there to do when the human mind encounters something so wonderful it cannot fully comprehend it than to just fall into the wonder of it! 2


2 Jakes, T. D. Follow That Star. [New York: Berkley Books, © 2003]. Pages 61-62.