- The Rev. Father Samuel Hartman
Sermon - Christmas Eve
Tonight we remember again the holy story. The story of the birth of Jesus, the son of God, born into our lives, our flesh and our world. And as this familiar Christmas story is told again, we hear the words of the angels, the messengers of God, announcing to those who were fearful: “Do not be afraid.”
Mary, a young teenager, unmarried, faced with a terrifying possibility, the scorn of her family and neighbors, the burden of being an unwed mother – bearing a child, the son of God, not knowing who her child would become, not yet seeing his death on the Cross or the miracle of his Resurrection.
The angel speaks to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, all things are possible with God.” And Mary accepts her future in obedience and joy.
Joseph, heard of Mary’s pregnancy and did not understand what had happened or what he should do.
The angel tells him in a dream: “Do not be afraid, Joseph. Take the risk. Raise the child, take care of the family, even though you will have a hard journey to Bethlehem and will have to flee into exile in Egypt for fear of the tyrannical king.” And Joseph takes Mary as his wife and the child as his Son.
Shepherds, rough and poor, almost homeless, living on the margins of society, suffering from injustice, poverty, discrimination, oppression.
Angels came to them too, like the army of heaven. The message was the same: “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of the miracle of the birth of the Son of God, and do not be afraid for your future, for a child is born, good news, great joy. Do not be afraid.” And the shepherds went, and saw, and returned, telling all who would listen the miracle of God.
This message – “Do not be afraid” is proclaimed again and again at Jesus’ birth. And as Jesus’ life unfolds, he speaks the same words throughout his ministry. Over and over Jesus speaks the promise of God: “Do not be afraid, it is I, peace, be still.” Jesus speaks and acts, and fear is taken away.
And at the end, after his suffering and death on the Cross, at the Tomb, the angel repeats these blessed words again: “Do not fear, he is risen.”
These are God’s words for us today – especially today. This is the Good News of the Gospel for us: Don’t be afraid. Right now, especially, we need to hear this promise of God, this good news of Jesus.
School shootings, suicide bombers, racist terror, mass murder, attacks on all sides, even in places where we used to feel safe, concerts and sporting events, at work, at home. Fear from abroad, fear from within. Fear of failing, paralyzed government, fear of fractured and polarized communities, fear of environmental change and economic collapse.
There is plenty for us to be afraid of.
Fear corrodes, fear destroys. Fear makes us ignore our values, our hope, our love. Fear allows others to manipulate us, to delude us, to lie to us. Demagogues take our fear and use it for their own profit and power. Exploiting fear allows presidential candidates, as one did recently, to suggest that keeping America safe is more important that our first amendment rights of freedom, the very bedrock of our country and our community.
This is what fear can do to us and our nation and our world. Fear can overwhelm and destroy, making us give up our hope and lose our values that hold our world and society and our lives together. To quote a president from decades ago, when the nation was facing a different sort of crisis: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
The threats are real, of course. The dangers surround us. That is true.
But that makes it all the more important for us, as Christian people of faith, to remember again God’s promise: “Do not be afraid.”
There are things to fear, but God is faithful.
This is the time to make known, as the shepherds did so many centuries, the good news of God with us. No matter what, God has come to us and dwells with us, in our hearts and souls, in our flesh, in our life and in our death. This truly is good news of great joy.
Proclaim with all your heart and soul and mind the good news of the baby in the manger, who grows to be the Son of God, revealing in his life and teaching, his death and Resurrection, the fulfillment of God’s promise and faithfulness, taking away our fear.
In the chaos of the world, in danger and in peace, in trouble and in joy, in birth and life and death, let the world know that God is with us, born in our flesh, living our life, dying our death, and promising new life with him.
In the midst of whatever is going on in your life – in your joy, in your sorrow, in your youth, in your age, in your confusion and doubt, in your life and death, like Mary and Joseph, like the shepherds, listen to the angels and hear the promise of God.
Tonight, right now, take the child Jesus in your arms. Take him, and remember. Remember the joys that Christmas brings. Remember the promises of God, and those words of the angels and of Jesus: “Do not be afraid.”
Hold the baby Jesus, and remember that he holds you and the whole world in his arms too. Keep faithful in God’s purposes and promises for the world, God’s life in us, and the reign of Christ to come. Remember the promises of Christ and of angels which take away fear and give life and hope.
God is with us, born in our hearts and lives, acting still, in us and through us, taking away our fear and giving life to the world, fulfilling our longings and our hopes.
Hold the baby Jesus in your arms tonight and rejoice in the great joy and life and hope which Jesus brings.