December 24, 2014
Do not be afraid. The first words from the Angel tell the whole story. They are the words that encapsulate and sum up the Gospel. They are the words that give us hope not just tonight but every night. And they are the words that could have been said at almost every step to every character in this incredible story that is still being told and still being lived into all around the world tonight.
Do not be afraid. These were critical words from Gabriel to Mary when she learned that her life was about to be turned upside down and her unwed pregnancy would become the most famous in human history. These were the words to Zechariah when he learned that his wife, well beyond the age of traditional childbirth, was pregnant with a child who would prepare the way for the long-awaited Messiah. They were said to Joseph, who learned that the traditional path to marriage had taken a significant, life-changing turn, one that required an incredible amount of trust and faith. And we hear them once again tonight when shepherds, minding their own business, receive a startling word from angels.
Do not be afraid – the angel said. For I have come not to bring you haunting news, not to bring you terrifying news. No, I have come to bring your good news, good news, in fact, of great joy, not just for you but for all people. You can understand why the thought of blood-curdling fear might have been on their minds and hearts – you might be shaken up to if a messenger of God showed up at your place of work. And yet the word is this – do not be afraid. Despite every bone in your body that is shaking, despite every instinct that tells you that to run the other way, despite every idea in your head that says to keep doing what you were doing before. Don’t be afraid. Why, because the message I bring is one of hope. The message God has sent me with is one of joy. The message I am delivering is freedom from sin, release to the captives, liberation from the powers that bind us and rescue from those who desire to do us harm.
And this is good news that will bring great joy for all people – not just Israel, not just church folk, not just the good people but all people – what is it – that Messiah has been born. Today, in the city of David, the angel says, a Savior has been born – the one we have been waiting for, the one that will free us and liberate us, the one who will give us life, abundant life, put more simply later in Scripture the life that truly is life. This child, born to largely anonymous parents, born outside because there was no room in the inn, will bring light and life and joy and hope and peace. We have been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and finally the savior that God has promised has been born, shout for joy.
This is the good news that brings us here tonight. It is this news, Christ the Savior is born, this is the news we need. And boy do we need it – in the midst of chaos and confusion. In the midst of hurt and pain. In the mist of fear that comes from uncertainty in our homes and families, the dread that comes in our living room when we watch the news from cities and towns, nations and groups born to do evil. In the midst of our striving and our effort and giving everything we have got for the good life and always seeming to come up just a little bit short – this is the news we need.
The news we need is this – that at Christmas we see that God is done waiting. The reason we sing and light candles and eat and yes, even buy presents, is that God is done waiting. That in Jesus, in Messiah’s humble birth, we see that God has chosen to come to us. That God has ceased to be a God removed and separated. But that by becoming like us, by putting on skin and becoming human, God has chosen to get involved. The hope of Christmas, the joy of Christmas, the love of Christmas, the peace of Christmas, the Christ of Christmas is more than presents, its more than food, its more than family or kith and kin or whatever sentimental message somebody is trying to sell us this week.
God looked down and saw the pain and the hurt and the brokenness sin and disobedience had wrought in our lives and our relationships and in our communities. And just like in Egypt, when God intervened to rescue and liberate, God came down to free us from bondage, to get involved and to get invested and to redeem our lives – not just in some eternal way that is only some time in the future. What we celebrate at Christmas, what we hope for at Christmas, what we yes, rejoice in tonight, and every night is that by coming to us, by coming to get involved, God has revealed that you matter. In the doctrine of the Incarnation, which we read about in John 1 – that the word became flesh and came to live among us – God has shown us once again his character and nature – that God is fundamentally for us. A simpler way, maybe a better way to say it is this – that in the birth and the life, and yes the death and the resurrection of Jesus – what God is showing is that you and I matter to God.
Your life counts for something, in fact no matter what it feels like, no matter how hard life is, no matter how desperate life becomes no matter how much you need things to change no matter what you have done or what you are afraid of what God has fundamentally done in Jesus is to declare to the world that our lives matter. That when we hurt, God hurts. That when we struggle God struggles. That even though sometimes we might feel alone we are never alone, because God has come. God has come to redeem. God has come to transform. God has come to bring hope. God has come to bring life. God has come to fundamentally change everything – not because God was bored. Not because God didn’t have anything else to do. But because God saw our pain, saw our despair, some our broken relationships that came from one broken relationship and came to fix it. God came to fix it so that life would get better. So that life would be worth living. So that life, wouldn’t be just good and wouldn’t be just fine, so that life would be abundant and eternal.
Many of you know that one of my responsibilities here at the church is to update our Facebook page as part of our communications ministry. Yes, that’s why I went to seminary. And many times that can feel like a chore but sometimes, every once in a while it will bless you in incredible ways. That was my experience a few weeks ago when a woman sent us a message on Facebook. She was trying to reach one of our members whose Sunday School class had invested in her grandchildren the last several Christmases, bringing light and life to these young children who were trapped in poverty. These anonymous saints of the church probably hadn’t thought they were doing anything special, just trying to provide clothes and toys for kids who might not have much to open tomorrow if not for the church. But what the grandmother had to say was so powerful, that she had spent the morning in tears because we would never know what it meant to her and her family that someone cared about them. That despite their struggles, despite their pain, despite all the bad that had happened to them, people cared enough to get involved in their lives and to change them for the better. You want to know what Christmas is – that’s Christmas.
Friends, believe it or not, God gives better gifts than even our Sunday School classes. We celebrate tonight because God has given us an incredible gift. We rejoice and we try to hold this gift the whole year round because it’s a sign – not just a sign, but a sign that we have to remember. What God is telling us and showing us and reminding us tonight – is that no matter you and I matter to God, and not just a little bit. No matter what, Christmas shows us, that to God, you are worth everything. Amen.