Do Not Be Afraid

Sermon for Friday, December 24th, 2010 || Christmas I RCL || Luke 2: 1-20 ||

The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

A peace and grace-filled Christmas to you!

Like Joseph and Mary, who negotiated their way through the noisy, overcrowded world of Bethlehem to the quiet sanctuary of a stable, each of us here tonight has negotiated our way through the noisy, overcrowded world of our cares and our concerns to rest in the quiet sanctuary of this holy time and place.  Welcome home.

I say “welcome home” because whether you’re here tonight for the first time, or here every week, you are indeed home—home, in God’s loving presence.  Home: where we remember the story of who we are and who’s we are; where we meet the light that shines in the darkness in the tiny form of a baby; where hearts are healed and hope is born anew.

“Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people:

“Do not be afraid.”  We hear those words every year at this time, spoken by one of God’s angelic messengers to a group of shepherds tending their flock.  They echo the same words spoken by the angel Gabriel to Mary nine months earlier, and to Zechariah—the uncle of the baby Jesus—before that.

“Do not be afraid.”

These are the words that foreshadow the tiny Christ-child’s entire purpose for being.  Words he will echo himself throughout his life as he grows into his mission and identity as Savior and Messiah: Do not be afraid, Simon Peter.  Do not be afraid, little flock.  My beloved, do not be afraid.

Yet we all are.  I venture to say there’s not a one of us who doesn’t harbor fears that we hope no one else can see in us.  Fears that prevent us from really believing how much God loves us, or fears that prevent us from really loving others the way He calls us to. And the saddest thing is that this is precisely why God chose to endure the pinched confines of human life and death—why He chose to give up His divine freedom:  to free us from fearing things like scarcity or illness or aloneness– or whatever other fears confine us– so we would be free to give and to receive His love.

The theologian C.S. Lewis said that God became like us so we might become more like him.  Yes: more able to give and receive His love.  The love embodied and made incarnate in the baby Jesus and announced to the shepherds that night.  The love that casts out all darkness and vanquishes fear.  The love that heralds the beginning of a new age of hope and possibility and change.

Now I know some people think it’s naïve to be hopeful in times of darkness or distress.  But there is nothing remotely naïve about Christian hope–far from it!  Christian hope may be born in a cradle, but it is shaped by the beam of a cross. This is hope that knows the pain of loss and betrayal and looks even death in the face without backing down.  This is hope that fuels dreams and births new life, new possibilities, new visions of the future. This hope is powerful and most important of all, this hope is contagious.

Make no mistake: It takes tremendous courage to embrace this hope. It takes tremendous courage to risk being disappointed, discouraged, or wrong. But Mary wasn’t afraid to hope.  Joseph wasn’t afraid to hope.  And neither were the shepherds. They weren’t afraid of being naïve or overly optimistic, of being misled or of looking foolish. Instead,  daring to hope they saw their hopes, their vision for the future, realized.  Then overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving, they spread the good news of it to all who had ears to listen.

Christmas inspires us to do the same. Every Christmas we’re invited to reclaim the gift of life-giving hope that God gives us in Christ; to share our vision for a better future with those around us who desperately need it; and, to spread the Good News joyfully, with thanksgiving.  As a famous missionary once said, “The early Christians did not say in despair, ‘Look what the world’s coming to.’  In delight they pointed to Jesus Christ and said, ‘Look what has come into the world!’”

In the midst of winter’s long dark days, hope is reborn. Stubborn, persistent, death-defying hope. Powerful, radiant, life-giving hope. Hope that arrives as both the medium and the message in a story full of wonder and awe, with starry skies and angels singing, and history being changed forever by the bearer of hope himself, Jesus Christ.

May this Christmas fill each of us, like the shepherds, with the awe and wonder of a living hope far too powerful to deny; and may it propel us forward courageously through the darkness, until we re-discover the incarnation of God’s love in Christ.

And do not be afraid.  For see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: A Light has been born in the darkness, and the darkness can not overcome it.  It is the light of Divine Love, and we will call his name Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

Welcome home. Where we remember the story of who we are and who’s we are…where hearts are healed and hope is born anew.

Amen.


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