An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (Luke 2:9).
What is terror?
It’s difficult to define the term without using the word fear. And we all know from experience that fear is the visceral feeling of being extremely disturbed and uncertain in the presence of danger.
The media is full of the concept of fear as it relates to terrorism – the use of systematic, premeditated violence to evoke mass fear for political or ideological purposes.
The downing of the Russian jet in the Sinai in October has now been officially credited as being the result of a terrorist bombing.
Last weekend’s violent attacks in Paris have resulted in appalling – and carefully orchestrated – death, injury, and pain.
The French capital has been seized with tension and fear in the aftermath of the deadliest attack in that nation since World War 2 a day after 43 were killed by a suicide bomber in Beirut, Lebanon.
But is fear always a negative emotional response?
Why precisely, were the shepherds in the Christmas story terrified?
Was it because they had never before seen heavenly messengers? Or heard an angelic choir? Or witnessed such a spectacular light show?
Whatever, their reaction was one of shock and awe…and raw terror!
It gets me to wondering about us.
Has our culture lost its ability to understand holy terror?
We live in a bizarre world.
Fifty years ago, most of us could not have defined the word terrorism. We witnessed terrorist activity – usually on a comparatively small scale. The FLQ crisis in Quebec (fall of 1970) created a national firestorm when one cabinet minister was murdered, and a British diplomat was kidnapped. While that was tragic, the carnage was considerably more mild when contrasted with what we routinely witness today.
We are surprised when we see or hear of another terrorist act; but we are no longer shocked by it.
And it’s not coincidental that in our age is a growing awareness that that which is secular is often considered sacred. That which is profane is revered. That which is clearly sinful and dark is held up as enlightened and progressive.
And the holy things of God are rarely treated with reverence. Or fear.
But it won’t always be that way.
Joy to the World is the most-published Christmas carol in North America. But when Isaac Watts penned the words almost 300 years ago, it wasn’t even intended for Christmas.
He was writing poetry to correspond to his understanding of themes in the Psalms, and this poem was to reflect some of what he read in Psalm 98. He was also envisioning the world of the coming Kingdom of God, with Christ as its Cosmic King.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.Sing to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of a psalm, with trumpets and the sound of a horn; shout joyfully before the LORD, the King. Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell in it; let the rivers clap their hands; Let the hills be joyful together before the LORD, for He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity (Psalm 98:4-9).
The advancing of God’s kingdom is described in decidedly more graphic language as the Bible concludes.
Near the end of the Revelation, the apostle John speaks of similar themes, but subject material that evokes strong discomfort, even dread on the part of the reader. For many, the image painted of the Lord Jesus is difficult to reconcile with the Jesus of the gospels.
But it is prophetic. It is biblical. Therefore, it is certain.
Rather than images of joy and serenity as “earth receives her King” and “ heaven and nature sings”, John witnesses a much more violent scene of divine judgement, wrath against human rebellion, and the conquering of every foe by Jesus Christ.
The Apocalyptic image is one of intense violence.
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose Rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns. He has a name written on Him that no one knows but He Himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following Him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of His mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11-16).
The prediction provides a vivid contrast to this season’s ubiquitous image of the gentle, unthreatening Baby in the manger.
But there is clearly coming a day, when deep reverence and profound respect will be demanded, and will be expressed.
It will be a day of unparalleled fear and terror.
Takeaway: Is my understanding of Jesus comprehensively biblical? Do I know Him with sufficient reverenence? Do I understand holy fear? Can my perception of biblical truth reconcile the beloved Christmas story with the fierce image of the Conquering Christ as the Captain of the Lord’s armies, the Rider on the white horse?
He is the all-powerful One, the Cosmic King, Christus Victor.
Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
~this blog has been expanded from my original post in December 2014.