Scriptures: Luke 2:1-20, John 1:1-14

“The News.” (A mini-movie by reThink Worship).

“Do not be afraid” said the angel to the shepherds. This Christmas, those words blaze out from scripture like a shooting star in the darkest night. The video we watched touches on just a few of the many fearful events of this past year.  If you haven’t noticed the way fear and despair is fogging up our psychological and social atmosphere, you haven’t been awake or sober. Or maybe you aren’t awake or sober now, in reaction to that very atmosphere! Because what do we humans do when we are afraid? Fight or flight.

We’ve seen the fights, the shaming and blaming and ugly finger-pointing in our national politics. Some of us are drawn into such behavior to manage our fear.  Others of us flee, numbing ourselves to anxiety. Consumer culture is delighted to provide us a variety of means to hide from our fear that the world’s suffering will pull us under.

But then, in the darkness of this fearful night, we gather here to remember: “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…”

On that Bethlehem hillside, the shepherds lived in a climate of bad news, too, at the utter margins of society, in an occupied country with minimal economic means. More immediately, though, it’s the incredible light in the sky which seemed fearful. But they receive the angel’s announcement, moving through and past their fear, staking their lives on a new reality: taking the risk of leaving their hillside to see and touch the baby, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger, sign and sacrament of God’s good news.

The deeper reality is not fear but joy for all people. It is a risk to believe in the coming of God in Jesus Christ. It makes us vulnerable to enter into hope and joy. In our world, where bad news always seems to outweigh the good, to believe that a baby in a first-century Bethlehem manger has anything at all to do with you and me seems ludicrous. We risk looking like fools if we choose to believe those angels. Even worse, we risk being disappointed when the bad news comes pouring in again.

So we have to be very clear what the good news is. The good news is that God comes to be with and for us. God comes, not as an almighty force coercing obedience, but small, quiet, vulnerable, a child in a manger.

The good news is that in this child, God becomes a man, a man whose teachings and healings question the political and religious powers of his time and ours, a man those powers attempt to silence, a man who is killed by those powers.

The good news is that this man who comes to the earth as a baby and goes to the cross to die who does everything with ultimate trust in the power of God’s vulnerable love, is vindicated when God raises him from the dead.

The good news is that because, in that man, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, “God with us,” God experiences with us every brutal and beautiful part of human existence, and in the mysterious way of faith, everything changes when we know we are never alone, we are never beyond the bounds of God’s attention or care, and even when we think we’ve gone beyond redemption, we are always accepted as beloved children, we are always worthy of God’s presence and love.

This is the “good news” which is offered to you again this Christmas. It is a gift against the darkness of fear, a light the darkness has not and cannot overcome. You have the choice. Will you receive it?

To receive it means not so much assenting to an intellectual concept of some doctrinal creed, but rather allowing the good news to become the bedrock truth of your world. And once you’ve received it, your job is to release it. To release your fear so that you can share Christ’s hope. To release your anger so that you can share Christ’s peace. To release your shame so that you can share Christ’s acceptance. To release your hate so that you can share Christ’s love. Like the shepherds, you will be sent to share the good news you’ve seen and heard in Jesus Christ, to “repeat the sounding joy…far as the curse is found” as the hymn reminds us.

Friends, tonight, you have chosen to be here, and so you have chosen again the good news. Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, has come to be with us and for us, and we will not be afraid.

(We are still catching up, friends. We hope you enjoyed reading a Christmas sermon when it is just about Easter!)

{Image attribution: Laurence OP under CC License}

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