Love and Courage
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them and they were sore afraid–Luke 2:9
But Mary stood without at the sepulcher weeping and seeth two angels and she turned herself back, and saw Jesus–John 20:11, John 20:12, John 20:14
The Shepherds Were Afraid
We do not like to associate fear with Bethlehem. Fear seems to be banished from the picture. We associate Bethlehem with joy and singing, and with the springing up of glad and glorious hope. Our Christmas hymns are among the gladdest hymns to be found in the whole range of Christian praise. Even waifs and strays, and desolate, lonely people are conscious of an inward warmth at Christmas. And yet these shepherds, out on the hillside, and “simply chatting in a rustic row,” were (as Dr. Williams puts it) terribly afraid. They were not careless nor irreligious men. Eastern shepherds were very rarely that. Their converse with the solitudes of nature kept their hearts alive to awe and wonder. Yet when the angel of the Lord appeared, in some sudden and overwhelming flash of glory, these hardy men were terribly afraid. The unseen world was breaking in on them. Invisible presences were near. That hidden realm which lies beyond the grave was revealing its mysterious secrets. And though their trust, as simple faithful shepherds, was in the God of Abraham and Isaac, an awful dread fell upon their hearts.
But Mary Magdalene Was Not Afraid When the Angels Spoke to Her at Jesus’ Grave
Now the singular thing is that when we come to Mary there is not a trace of that commanding terror. And yet if it struck into the shepherds’ hearts we should expect to find it here intensified. They were hardy and courageous men; she was a delicate and shrinking woman. They were together, in strengthening companionship; she was all by herself in the dim dawn. They were out on the hills, where sheep were bleating, and where every bush and stream let was familiar; she was in the presence of a grave. Fear falls upon the heart more readily when some intense experience has exhausted it. No such experience had reached the shepherds; Mary had come through Calvary. Yet there is not a trace in Mary’s instance of that gripping and overpowering fear which seized the shepherds when they saw the angels. She did not flee. She did not faint. She saw them, and she continued weeping. The angels spoke to her and Mary answered, as if she were talking with some village friend. And so little did they disturb her heart that she did not even continue gazing at them, but, having spoken, turned herself about. One could not imagine the shepherds doing that. Terror held their eyes. Had a wolf howled, and any sheep cried piteously, I question if they would have even heard it. What, then, had happened? What made the difference? What banished that overwhelming dread in the intrusion of the realm unseen?
Mary’s Love for Jesus’ Made the Difference
The difference lies in Mary’s love for Jesus, a love of which the shepherds were quite ignorant. They came to the innumerable company of angels; she to the Mediator of the better covenant. We all know how love can banish fear. The Apostle tells us there is no fear in love. In the strength and passion of her mother-love, the timidest of mothers will grow brave. And the love of Jesus had so mastered Mary, and captured every tendril of her heart, that fear took to itself wings and flew away. it was a fearful thing to be out in the dim dawn, beside a grave, and near those Roman soldiers, it was a fearful thing within a sepulcher lo be confronted with these unearthly presences. But just as mother-love will drill out fear when a beloved baby is in peril, so the love of Jesus drove out fear from Mary. To have known Jesus had made all the difference. To have loved Him had slain a hundred terrors. To be perfectly certain of His love for her had swallowed up her womanly timidities. A woman with a woman’s heart, she was stronger than these hardy sons of shepherding, because Christ had come into her life.
Haunting and Mysterious Fears Can Be Banished in Your Life
And that is what always happens in a life, amid the presences of the unseen and the unknown. To banish haunting and mysterious fears takes more than the natural courage of the heart. No one would charge these shepherds with being cowards. They would have laid down their lives for the sheep. Amid familiar and expected dangers they were easily equal to their problem. But let unseen and mysterious fingers touch them, and flashes betray the nearness of eternity–and dread awakes, and sudden pangs of fear, and piercing terrors in the stoutest heart. No natural courage can keep such fears at bay. They haunt and darken every human heart. We all move through a mysterious universe, and from irruptions we are never safe. But one thing we do know, and even Mary was not sure of this, that neither height nor depth nor life nor death can separate us from the love of Christ. in that love, given and returned, lies the dismissal of a thousand fears. We do not tremble now when the unknown assails us, nor when the finger of death is on the latch. We are like Mary, very near a sepulcher, in the dim dawn, amid unearthly things, but undisturbed, untroubled, unafraid–because Christ has come into the life.
Sir Godfrey Gregg