Do Not Be Afraid

Sermon for December 24, 2012
The Eve of the Nativity of our Lord
Luke 3: 1-20
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

I want to invite you to just take a minute to look around you. Because this is an astonishing thing, really: That despite the bone-crushing sadness of lives lost at Newtown, the recent hyped-up hysteria of the doomsday prophets that the world was about to end and a pervasive underlying anxiety in our country that we’re about to fall head first off the edge of the fiscal cliff, we are here. We – are – here, together! And it is good that we are here.

It is good that we are here with our families and our friends—whether it’s with those families we’ve been born into or those chosen as thoughtfully and carefully as the brightly colored packages under our Christmas trees; whether it’s those friends with whom we’re as comfortable as an old pair of PJs or those with whom we’re still feeling our way gingerly, perhaps even awkwardly. No matter. It is good that we are here.

Because here, tonight, whether we’ve known each other all of our lives or have never laid eyes on one another before, none of us is a stranger.  Here, tonight, in this place called God’s Church, we are one family called God’s Church. And the very fact that we are here tonight – in God’s Church and as God’s Church—bears witness to the very earth-shattering truth that brought us: Christ, our Savior is born! Emmanuel: God is with us!

It’s crazy when you think about it: Incomprehensible—that two thousand years ago, moved by pure unadulterated love, God chose to become like us so that we might become more like Him.  God became Man! God became Man, entered into human history, and the world was forever changed.  Witness all of you in these pews.

It defies comprehension. It  defies all logic, all reason, and all good common sense.  And yet…and yet we are here, in God’s Church, as God’s people, to celebrate God’s birth into the human family. Here to celebrate Emmanuel: God with us, two thousand years later.

The English novelist Taylor Caldwell once wrote that, “This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.”  Well, if you remember nothing else from this service tonight, I want you to remember those words. Because Caldwell was spot-on: We are never alone.  And because we are never alone, we need never fear.

“Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy…”

We read these words every year 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 months earlier, and to Zechariah—the uncle of the baby Jesus–six months before that.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.”

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.”

“Do not be afraid [you shepherds] for I am bringing you good news of great joy”

Do not be afraid, God hears your prayers. Do not be afraid, God loves you and favors you. Do not be afraid, you are not alone, and never will be alone.

Do not be afraid.  These words foreshadow Jesus’ entire purpose for being.  They’re words he will echo himself throughout his life as he grows into his mission and identity as God-With-Us, our Savior and Messiah: Do not be afraid, Simon Peter. Do not be afraid, little flock.  My beloved, do not be afraid.  But of course all of us are afraid. We’re only human.  We harbor secret fears we hope no one else can see and forget that everyone else shares them.  Fears that God doesn’t really exist or care, that we’re not really forgiven or forgivable, loved or lovable…that the world is a random and capricious place.  All kinds of fears that bind us and turn us in on ourselves instead of out towards one another.

And yet we are here tonight. We are here in God’s church, being God’s church. We are here with our families and friends, here where none of is a stranger, bearing witness as God’s family to the earth-shattering truth that Christ, our Savior is born! That Emmanuel, God, is with us. That two-thousand years later, we are not alone and will never be alone.

So do not be afraid, brothers and sisters, for this is exceedingly good news.  This is the good news of great joy for all people that the angelic messenger is bringing us at this time when we can all use a little good news.  And it is so very good that we are here, together, to share it!  Amen.

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