Christmas Day, 2016
Luke 2: 1-11
    May the Christ-Child bless these words and those who hear them this Christmas morning.  Amen.

                                                             What the Angels Said

Something happened while we were unwrapping presents, welcoming out of town guests, or fretting about whether we bought the right present for our brother-in-law.  Christ was born!  God is here.  We’ve heard various renditions of this wondrous truth in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, but I want to include how the Gospel writer John describes what happened.  He writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .Through him all thing were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  . . (and so) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us"  (John 1: 1-3, 14).  The Word, Jesus Christ, became flesh, like us; was born, like us.  The Word, Jesus Christ, became Emmanuel, which means God-with-us.  Then.  And now.

This Advent, through scripture, through poetry, through music, we’ve heard many words, words of expectation, of promise, of hope.  These four walls should be shouting with all the glorious, and challenging, glad tidings that have filled this space. They have pointed the way to this very moment where we gather to celebrate Emmanuel’s birth.  

Words shape us and have an impact on us when we let them sink into our being.  Throughout scripture, from beginning to end, certain words become almost a refrain, a chant that describes who this Emmanuel is and how we are to live as his children.  These words are found as early as Genesis 15: "After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:  'Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, and your great reward.'"   Do not be afraid.

In Matthew, when the angel appears to Joseph in a dream, he states, "Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife."  In Luke, when the angel appears to the father of John the Baptist, his first words are, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah.  Your prayers have been heard."  And when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, he says, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God."  

To the shepherds in the field keeping watch over their flocks, the angel of the Lord says, "Do not be afraid.  I bring you tidings of great joy."  And thirty-three years later, at the scene of the resurrection, an angel tells a handful of confused and wary women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  But he has risen."  Do not be afraid.

When I think of that phrase, I think of Mary.  There she was, a second class citizen, no doubt ridiculed or gossiped about when her pregnancy became known.  And there she was, nine months pregnant, on a dangerous road to Bethlehem where bandits lurked and crowds jostled and bumped her.  Do not be afraid.  She must have repeated those words to herself over and over as she and Joseph entered an unfamiliar and unfriendly town, and, heavy with child, she couldn’t find a place to lie down.  Walking by Roman soldiers who looked at her with scorn, she must have remembered those words and perhaps even said them out loud as she gave birth in a stall that smelled of animals with no one’s assistance but Joseph’s.  

But Mary’s greatest act of courage and supreme trust in God happened when she wrapped that little baby, her new son, in strips of cloth and laid him in the manger, not really understanding what lay ahead for him but sensing –pondering in her heart--that it would be something both amazing and painful.  In that one holy moment, with all the noise and hustle and dangers lurking around her, with King Herod getting ready to call for the execution of all male infants, she must have prayed, “Do not be afraid,” as she began the long journey doing what God had asked of her.  Perhaps she also whispered those words to her helpless infant, “Do not be afraid.”  How hard it is to listen, to let go of fear, to trust, even on this happiest of mornings.

We live in a very fearful world, facing some of the same worries and threats that Mary did.  After our trees are taken down and our guests go home, what lies ahead of us in the coming year?  What lies ahead of you?  The choices are limitless:  Surrendering  the known to face the unknown; rearing children; letting children go; facing times of illness; being alone; being rejected; growing old; losing loved ones; failure; success; concerns over war, ISIS, a new administration; finances, future well-being; taking risks; career choices; finding a mate; losing a mate; our mortality; eternity.  Yet into this fearful world, a child has been born by a young girl who chose to trust what the angels said to her.

This holy morning, we remember that the Good News pronounced by the angel to Mary is also the good news pronounced to us right now!  In the birth of Jesus Christ, God came to earth personally to deliver a four word message to us, all of us: "Do not be afraid."  Do not be afraid, children!  Do not be afraid, young people!  Do not be afraid, mothers and fathers and grandparents!  Do not be afraid, you who are single, divorced, remarried, or widowed!  Do not be afraid, middle-aged and elderly!  Do not be afraid because the Son of God is light who shines into the darkness of fear, confusion, and uncertainty.  Do not be afraid because the Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us so that he could experience what we experience, could feel what we feel.  Do not be afraid, because you are a Child of God and nothing can take that from you.  Emmanuel never said, "Be afraid!"  He never said, "Run from fear!"  Instead, Emmanuel said, "Peace I bring you.  My peace I leave you."  Do not be afraid.

One Christmas long, long ago, God chose to break through the bonds of history and time to be present then . . .and he continues to be present now.  God is in our world now, at this very moment, to take our hand when we walk our journeys, to pick us up when we stumble, to comfort us when we hurt, to love us into fearlessness, to accept us as we are, and to trust that, no matter what, all is well.  

The angel--God's messenger to us--says, "Do not be afraid.  I bring glad tidings, joy, to all people.”  Jesus' last recorded words in the Gospel of Matthew are, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Jesus leaves no room for fear.  This morning, let us join the Christmas angels whose great glad tidings tell and pray, "O Come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel."   

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