Date: December 24, 2016, 9:00 pm
Title: “Fear Not!… Yeah, Right!”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
I read in a preacher’s blog this week that Christmas Eve is like the Superbowl for the church – just look at the crowds! No pressure, preacher… but then, of course, at least half the folks are really only here for the commercials! I’ll let you decide which part is the coveted commercial.
Do not be afraid. Read the Gospel of Luke, and that one phrase seems to jump out at you, even if you’ve read it a thousand times before, even if you’ve heard Linus recite it on that Peanuts special year after year after year.
Do not be afraid. Luke uses the phrase three times in the first two chapters of his book, each time spoken by an angel. It functions as a kind of thesis statement for the story that will follow: the birth, the life, the teach, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. This may be why some Biblical scholars suggest that Jesus’ infancy narrative in Luke is “the Gospel in miniature.”
There it is, in a neat little nutshell… Do not be afraid. Okay, no problem. We can all go home now and get on with life without delay. We can all go home and get into the lives God intends for us, without hesitation. We can all go home and be about the life God imagines for the world. Do not be afraid…yeah, right! As if it has ever been that easy for anyone!
I think of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus… and his parents, Zecharaiah and Elizabeth, who spent years praying, asking for a child, to no avail. And then, when they had long since given up, when they were beyond hoping for that hoped-for child, an angel comes to Zecharaiah and says “Do not be afraid”, but go out and buy a crib, and maybe even a few cigars.
Then I think of Mary, minding her own business, getting ready for her wedding, when that pesky angel comes along and says “Do not be afraid”, your life is about to change forever… if you can move beyond your fear, if you can see within your hope, if you can live inside God’s love.
And the story progresses, so that tonight we find the same refrain, Do not be afraid This time it is shepherds who wonder if maybe they had too much to drink, or perhaps didn’t get enough sleep, or spent too much time in the cold, too isolated from the rest of the community.
Fear not?!… I think that would only be easy if we did not take Christmas seriously. Because when you choose to receive this child – things are going to change. Someone once told me he thought King Herod needed a bigger part in our Christmas plays. As he put it:
Of all the characters in the story, Herod seems to be the only one who really “gets it”… Herod is the only one who understands just how dangerous Jesus will be. Because Herod knows you can’t have more than one king at a time.
You can’t have more than one king at a time. No wonder Herod is desperate. Herod is as desperate as all the tyrants the world has ever produced, as desperate as all the fearful ones we know today, because Herod understands you can’t have more than one king at a time. And this king – this Christ child – this infant king has the power to move us beyond our fears into that place where God’s possibilities meet our potential.
So many struggle to see God in today’s desolate headlines, while others wonder where God could possibly be found in their own private pain of ruptured relationships, lost loves, loneliness, illness, job loss, homelessness, depression. Yet this is nothing new; it has always been this way. Jesus was born into a world of brokenness. Jesus is still born into that same world, and Christmas will not make all the pain go away. But Christmas does make a world of difference.
Because Christmas cannot be erased by any Herod the world can create. It is the abiding truth of God’s love for YOU (you, you, you) and me. And that love cannot be stopped, if we will let God move us beyond our fear.
Shortly after Dr Seuss published his Christmas tale, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, he received a letter from two brothers, David and Bob Grinch, of Ridgefield, New Jersey. In that letter these brothers asked Ted Geisel if he would please change the Grinch’s name, because friends and even strangers were constantly teasing them about being the villains of Christmas. Dr. Seuss wrote back to the brothers, saying:
I disagree with the people who harass you.
Can’t they understand that the Grinch in my story is the HERO
of Christmas? Sure, he starts out as the villain. But it’s not how you start out that counts. What counts is what you are at the finish. What counts is how you end the story.
What counts tonight is not where you are, or what you are right now. It’s not even what you have done or where you have been that matters. What counts is where you will let God take you. What matters is what you will let God make of you – beyond your fears.
Fear not! … Yeah, really. For God is with you (and you, and you, and me). God is with us all. Merry Christmas! Amen.