Advent: From Great Fear to Great Joy

December is a great time of year. Children are getting excited about Christmas. Parents are frantically looking for the best shopping deals for gifts. College students cannot wait for the final exams to be complete. Families are scouring for the best Christmas tree. And in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season, we are reminded that Jesus was born.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)

That first Christmas must have been incredible. It was an announcement like no other to a group of people who were of no consequence. I’m not sure what great fear feels like, but it had to be intense. Here was a group of shepherds with their sheep at night; a pitch-black darkness that would have been illumined only by the stars. The shepherds, ever so vigilant and constantly on alert from all sides, would have no doubt encountered fierce wolves who would surround their prey in the cover of darkness. With courage and bravery, they successfully thwarted many attacks by these predators.

On this night, however, they were filled with great fear like nothing they had ever experienced. Heaven had opened up to the shepherds. They were all at once surrounded! But, not by wolves. It was the glory of God himself, shining down on them with the announcement of good news for all people. It was the ultimate Christmas gift, delivered in the most awesome manner and it would change their great fear into great joy.

After more than 2,000 years, that good news is still being delivered here and around the world. Sometimes I hear stories of the gospel coming to Muslims and Hindus through the announcement of a messenger in a dream or vision. More often, the gospel is shared through personal testimonies of faithful saints, like you and me, who have experienced the great joy of the Savior. And, it always brings God glory when the gift is shared with others. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season, the story of the shepherds reminds us to be aware that there are people we will encounter at work, in our neighborhoods, on the bus, or at the shopping mall who might be overwhelmed with great fear but ready to hear the good news of great joy that is for them.

­—Michael Cooper