Read Matthew 1:18-25
And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. – Matthew 1:19-20
“Self-serving fear is one of the most self-destructive forces in the human life.” That was a quote by a friend of mine several years ago. It seemed wise and insightful and the more I consider it, the more I believe it is profoundly true.
From a purely human level, think of how self-serving fear limits us:
- We don’t try to take on a goal for fear of failing.
- We don’t enter into a difficult conversation that could lead to reconciliation because we’re afraid of the person with whom we are at odds.
- We don’t speak up and defend someone because we’re afraid that those around us will accuse us of miscreant behavior.
- We don’t refuse to do something unethical because we’re afraid of being called self-righteous or unreasonable.
Consider the angel’s announcement to Joseph and the precious little he was given to go on in relation to taking Mary to be his wife. The facts were simple: Mary has not been unfaithful; the Holy Spirit has caused her to conceive the child. He is to renamed Jesus for he will save his people from their sins. There is no promise of angel hosts protecting him from slanderous rumors, from being slighted by his business associates, or from any other number of slings that could come his way by taking Mary to be his wife.
This will require courage on Joseph’s part. The courage it will require, strangely enough, is to choose whom to fear. The choice is simple, really: fear the world or fear God. Fear the world and you run, hide, prevaricate, and deceive. Fear God and you obey.
The key to fearing God, however, is not just a raw trepidation of his judgement and power. The key is fear mingled with trust and love. The key is to understand the Psalmist: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:4). It might also be the hymn: ‘Twas grace that taught my soul to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”
The grace of God in its utter depths and profound implications sustains our hearts. When we look over the edge of the chasm of God’s grace we must surely realize that if there is no grace, there is no hope. But with grace, love and mercy of God – shown in the birth of the Savior – we can truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We will not let man’s threats or pressures dissuade us. And when we fail, we return to the gracious and good God who has saved us from our sins. Thanks be to God!