If we really stopped to think about Christmas, it would scare us to death. I think this is true because every time the angels show up with an announcement during the Christmas story, they have to tell the person they're talking to, "Don't be afraid."
I have always heard preachers say that angels say "don't be afraid" because seeing a real angel would freak anybody out. I get that, but I think it goes a lot deeper.
Think about the kinds of things the angels say.
To Mary: "Don't be afraid, little teenage virgin girl. The Holy Spirit is going to get you pregnant."
To Joseph: "Don't be afraid, young man. You're going to be the incarnate God's dad."
Here's the subtext. "Don't be afraid. God is here to change every single thing about your life. First, you're going to have a baby and nobody's going to believe your story about how that baby was conceived. The gossip will follow you around for the rest of your life. Next you're going to be chased by a crazy king who will end up murdering thousands of babies, just to be sure he kills your child. And, while you're running, you might want to pull out your Rosetta Stone and brush up on your Egyptian. You're going to need it while you're living there indefinitely. And sometime, mysteriously, a sword will pierce your heart. Don't be afraid."
These are the parts of the story that we regularly overlook during the Christmas season. We get all into the Little Lord Jesus Asleep on the Hay, and Angels We Have Heard on High, and Santa Claus is Coming To Town. The tree and the cookies and the ham and Aunt Whoever's fruitcake.
Collectively, we have edited out the hard parts of the Christmas story. We have made ourselves believe that "Don't be afraid" is simply about the angels needing to dial down the bright light a smidge.
It's like we're using all the sentimentality to self-medicate. Because if we let ourselves think about it too much, we might start realizing that the God who was willing to place His One and Only Son as a baby in a manger, under the care of a couple of teenagers, with a homicidal king and a bunch of Romans in charge of the country--well, that God might do any number of similarly scary things in our lives, too.
C. S. Lewis said this: "He's not a tame lion."
I feel God challenging me this Christmas season to allow the sentimentality to fall away.
To pull up my big-girl panties and be willing to engage with the rest of the story, while knowing that God is good all the time.
To somehow have eyes to look beyond whatever disaster is ensuing in the present, to know that the Everlasting Father, infinite in wisdom, power, and love, whose mercy is over all his works, is still directing his will toward his children's good.
To stand in front of the angel, no matter what kind of news is coming, and actually follow the command, "Don't be afraid."