The Sermon For Christmas Day 2019
Luke 2: 8
“And there were shepherds, living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
The shepherds were terrified. Fear and terror are pervasive. All humans slip into ‘fear mode’ remarkably easily. On a global scale, we fear economic crisis, ecological melt-down ~ and what that means, and will mean, for us. We fear terrorist activity ~ it was bad enough before 9/11, but things have never been the same since then; and the horrors of the recent London Bridge attack are still in our minds.
On a personal level, in terms of our self-esteem, we are more vulnerable than we would easily admit. We fear not being loved ~ or, worse, we have lurking doubts that we might not really be love-able. And ~ Is there no permanence and faithfulness?
One young person, in poetic mode, writes on her Facebook:
“I’m scared to fall in love.
Afraid to love so fast…
because every time I fall in love
it seems to never last.”
Another shares a cry from the heart:
“I wish I was a little kid again because skinned knees are easier to heal then broken hearts.”
Living with those fears, quite simply, is disabling ~ it knocks the stuffing out of you, and leaves you raw, and at risk of expecting the worst; and (have you noticed?) expectation forms consequences ~ so, in plain terms, if we expect bad things they are more likely to happen. Fear is bad news! No wonder God says, ‘Fear not!’
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, the great French general, knew a thing or two about strategy and tactics, and he once said:
“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) U.S. poet, essayist and lecturer, gives another twist to our understanding of fear:
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.”
And listen to the wisdom of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC-65) the Roman philosopher and playwright, who said:
“Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed.”
Yes, indeed, God dislikes fear!
Closest to the truth, I reckon, comes Emerson, again, in his perception:
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men and women are afraid of the light.”
The shepherds on the hillside around Bethlehem saw a great light and were terrified.
So, so easily, we are frightened, needlessly, by the good things God has waiting for us.
Listen to Nelson Mandela in his presidential inaugural speech in 1994:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous!
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God –
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people will not feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us;
It is not in just some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
God’s message to the shepherds, and to us, to spread to ‘all the people’, is “Do not be afraid.”
I am with you
I am with you in sadness and suffering
I am with you through doubt and death
I am with you in fullness of life, where time no longer has meaning, where life is enjoyed in quality not quantity.
This is no empty promise ~ advertising hype ~ it is what we see described in the Gospels as the life of that baby whose birth we celebrate today; for that baby, like each of us, grew-up, lived and loved, died ~ and rose again, victorious, even over that greatest object of our fantasies and fears, death itself. Love is, and ever will be, victorious!
Therefore, on this Christmas Day, as we prepare to go in celebratory mode, into 2020, God says to each of us, “Do not be afraid! I am with you. I love you ~ and my love will be all you need, in this world, and the next. So ~ rejoice! ~ fear not! ~ and enjoy fullness of life!”
This is not escapist optimism, for we are all familiar with the darkness and fear into which God shone the light of his love. We know that Jesus grew-up and trod a hard and dark path to the cross for us; and, at times, we too have trod that hard path. No – Christmas doesn’t offer us shallow optimism, but hard-won hope. And the offer is for sharing! Do not fear the light – cherish it, fan its flames into greater warmth, and gently share it – the greatest Christmas present you can give!
Let me leave you with some words that Thomas McGrath wrote:
“How could I have come so far?
And always on such dark trails?
I must have travelled by the light
shining from the faces of those I have loved.”
May it be so for us this Christmas …
as we see the light of God’s love
shining in the face of Jesus,
and in the faces of each other.
And a very happy Christmas to you all! +
Quoted from passage by Marianne Williamson