Pastor’s Devotion #109

“Three Simple Words”

“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Be not afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” Luke 2:30

Recently, Google has encouraged the use of three simple words to help employees avoid burnout. What might those words be? “No Meetings Week”. With those working from home, suffering through endless zoom and virtual meetings, the message, “No Meetings Week” is a welcomed moment to celebrate.

With the news of a pandemic’s third wave, a pulling back from any forward steps toward normalcy, and a preparation for what could seem like a hollow holiday season, perhaps we are need of three other simple words from Scripture.

I stumbled upon these words, once again, as I pulled papers out of my Bible, trying to preserve them from Sunday morning’s sprinkle. A weathered piece of paper fell out, waiting to be re-discovered. The three words were the title of a devotion that I wrote exactly 23 years ago, for the December newsletter. It was a devotion that I wrote after my daughter’s birth. This year, 2020, my daughter celebrated her “Golden” birthday. I didn’t know what a golden birthday was until Jeriah explained it. It’s the birthday  when your age crosses with your birth date. Jeriah was born on October 23rd, and this year she turned 23 – a la – a Golden Birthday! (My golden birthday occurred when I was six, the year I got shingles, not a year worth remembering in my opinion.)

23 years have passed since I penned the following perspective. Since then, there have been highs and lows, tears and laughter, adventures and sorrows. These three words still stand, ready to lift up, re-assure, and restore our focus. Messengers were sent by God, with the intent to restore and reorient thoughts to God with these words. We are to know that He is present through thick and thin, challenge and defeat, surprise and triumph. You’ve heard the words before. Perhaps working to survive endless adjustments and uncertainties, you need to be reminded again: “Be Not Afraid!” Pause here – Take a moment and reflect upon the places where fear has crept into your heart and mind. It is critical that we recognize those things that create fear within us – so that we can direct them to the Lord. God is greater than all that we fear. More than that – God is with us! GOD IS WITH YOU! He will always be with you! One word, “Emmanuel”, which we speak often at Christmas, holds the meaning in, with and under the word: “God With Us” – Yes, in these trying times – God is with us. Three words in One, like the Trinity – eternally true. No matter your experience this holiday season. No matter your experience next year and beyond, Almighty God wants us reassured, “Be Not Afraid”.

Written November, 1997

 “Be Not Afraid”

I felt a wave of fear wash over me as I watched the fetal monitor do a dance hour after hour. The contractions wouldn’t stop. Our tiny baby seemed determined to rush into the world eight weeks early. We were told survival was fairly certain, but then again, who really knows. What about complications and unforeseen circumstances? Fear hovered close by.

A few days later, with contractions under control, we made our way home. Now, new worries surfaced. When labor begins, would we have time enough to get to the hospital? Would the delivery be as sudden and as painful as Isaiah’s birth? October 22nd arrived. I received a page at 9:35 p.m. “Honey”, my wife said, “You better get home.” I raced home. We arrived at the hospital safely at 11:00 p.m. Yet again, more anxiety. Was the baby transverse? Dawn’s water broke at 1:30 a.m. The midwife declared the good news, “The head is down!”. The epidural was administered. The rest is history. A perfect delivery. A perfect baby girl. Jeriah Aryn Bankson was brought into this world on October 23rd at 9:36 a.m.

Looking back, I sometimes wonder, “What was I so worried about?” Then again, it’s interesting what happens as I look forward. Not that I am consumed with fear but what does the future hold? Could it be SIDS, sexual abuse, learning disabilities? Who will she date? When should she date? Will she be safe away at college? Who will she marry? Will her kids be born healthy? Does it ever end? If one is not careful, the answer is, no, it never stops. There will ALWAYS potentially be seemingly something worthy of worry.

But during this Christmas Season, there is a simple statement we need to hear and hold on to. This saying is not just for December but for each of our undetermined days. It is the message of angels! “Be Not Afraid!” This familiar phrase forever connects us to shepherds and angels on Christmas night. Shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night. Suddenly they are enthroned by a heavenly host declaring the glorious news that a Savior is born. We hear the message but we need to tune our ear to the preface. Three words which are easily overlooked but set the stage for the celebration. How can the celebration commence if fear fills the air? It is impossible. Fear has no place in God’s plan of action. As one scours the Scriptures, it is interesting to note that these three little words are littered throughout the herald’s message. The first words spoken to Zachariah and Mary by a holy messenger brings the assuring word, “Be Not Afraid.” In fact, from Genesis to Revelation, these three words are used with regularity. God speaks directly to Abraham, Isaac, Moses and others using the same words. And men of faith also speak these words of encouragement; Joseph to his brothers, Joshua to the people of Israel, Elijah to a widow, David to his son, Solomon, and many more. Finally, in Revelation, when John comes face to face with Almighty God, the first words spoken to him are, “Be Not Afraid – I am the First and the Last.”

What does this all mean? The message is clear! God’s desire is to remove ALL fear (anxiety) from every aspect of our life. God wants us to be filled with the gifts of his Spirit – joy, peace, patience, love, self- control. Fear has NO existence in the presence of God (except the “fear” which calls us to revere him and stand in awe)   

As Christmas approaches and we await the coming of the Messiah, let us take hold of and claim these three little words spoken by the Holy Ones. Regardless of our circumstances, past, present, and future,   we need not fear, God has made a way for us – we will overcome!

Let us celebrate the joy that is for all people – In the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!

Love in Christ, Pastor Mark