Message:Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
This is the night. A night of wonder and miracle. A night of mystery and magnificence. A night of gift and blessing. God has entered into our world: vulnerable, naked, humble; as the tiny Christ child. Blessed Redeemer, God with us, Emmanuel, as the most preciously perfect Christ child. Love so amazing, so divine. King above all kings, Lord of Lords. Born without majesty; without grandeur; among the animals; at their feeding table. Born to a young, trusting maiden; where in the warmth of a stable under a starlit sky amidst a jostling, pressing crowd of anxious citizens come to fulfill their civil obligation, God births for us, in a climate of apprehension and fear, the promise of love abundant inviting us to rejoice.
Fear, Love, and Joy: this is how we know come to live with God in Christ.
To love with the joy of God in Christ for many of us is frightening. We’re very accustomed to sedate, respectable boundaries around our loving that keep fear at bay while at the same time, impede joy. We’re good at setting all kinds of conditions that limit our loving. When the security of our limitations is at risk, we’re fearful. The gospel of Luke tells the birth narrative with a similar veil of fear hovering.
Oppressive Emperor Augustus, in an effort to protect himself from anything problematic enlists a census, a counting to keep order. Obedient Mary and Joseph return home to be held accountable. Mary gives birth to her firstborn child, wraps him in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger because there is no room for them in the inn. Try as we might to glamorize the story and paint a rosy picture, the truth is, Mary, just a young girl herself, while strong and trusting in her faith, is fearfully apprehensive, soliciting compassion from the angel who calls out, “do not be afraid.” Maybe that’s why Luke’s writer only gives two verses, just forty-four words to the birth of Jesus. The whole idea is too strange, too fearful, too iffy, too chancey.
The shepherds, keeping watch over their flock by night, very accustomed to the starlit skies, wild sounds crying out in the night airs, typically do not frighten easily. They’re accustomed to thieves hovering by, ready to snatch away their carefully guarded livestock. How often, like the shepherds, do we anticipate fear as it sneaks about in the shadows ready to pounce, inhibiting loving and stealing our joy? Oddly, God’s love heralded-in with such a cacophony of joy overwhelms the shepherds and they find themselves fearful of such abundant love, not quite ready to celebrate.
We’re reminded from the writer of John’s gospel that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). We are redeemed. We are saved. This perfect love, God incarnate, God with as the Christ child, comes not just to the comfortable, the privileged, the fortunate. This perfect love in Christ Jesus comes most especially to the lowly, the humble and the simple and enters in with a boldness deliberate in casting out fear. Regardless of our station in life, fear is a driving motivator for us all.
With angels rejoicing the shepherd’s gripped by fear are ready to go and see. Mary and Joseph, courageous in pushing up against the clutch of fear on their hearts, know full well, that the miracle of our Savior’s birth gives way to the greater power of love.
The angel’s antidote of love conquering fear culminates in rejoicing. Along with “Do Not Be Afraid,” the angel also reports, “I bring you good news of great joy…unto YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Christ the Lord.” The angel doesn’t report that unto Mary and Joseph is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Christ the Lord. Rather, the angel, speaking for God, heralds, “unto YOU this day is born a savior…I bring YOU great joy…” God revealed to us in Christ as one of us is a joy intended for all God’s kingdom. We are ALL the recipients of God’s great joy.
Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds are no longer strapped in the bonds of fear. So, they go. They go out, boldly, rejoicing with good news. God revealed to us in Christ as one of us is a joy intended for all God’s kingdom. We are ALL the recipients of God’s great joy.
What does joy look like for you? Is joy the laughter of little children? The climb up the ladder to financial reward? The freedom to make your own choices? An afternoon of quiet? A difficult situation now resolved? Perhaps so. But, deep, profound joy is taking the journey of the watching and waiting of Advent through the door of Christmas, crossing over the threshold of the stable entrance into the glory of God, born among us, within us, upon us, living through us with a love promising new hearts for loving.
A story. As her adopted mother was nearing the end of her days, the adopted child, now a woman mothering her own children and grandchildren, began to ponder who her birth mother might be. A lifetime of not knowing the truth of her birth mother kept fear at bay. She was able to love with limitations and that proved to be fine. But, the wonder still lingered. Could she love her birth mother or would the fear of rejection keep her from discovery?
Then, through social media, the tender woman found her birth sister. Carefully, lovingly, one step at a time, the sisters initiated a relationship. Finally, they met in person. Immediately they found themselves as kindred spirits. More of the story revealed the found sister, along with two other sisters were all raised by their birth mother. Just the one sister was given up for adoption. Truth emerged. Hurt hovers. Fear of rejection rests in the shadows. But, together, the two sisters have chosen to look past themselves onto one another as Christ loves us. Together, they celebrate their discovery. Not long ago, the sisters were here with Epiphany, exuberant in rejoicing. Fear. Love. Joy.
This Christmas Christ comes, once again, with a love like no other; a love given for us in the perplexity of his life, the agony of his death and the miraculous saving hope of his resurrection. A love promised to us that we too, with new hearts, may share such love. A love that is the gift of living for others and not for ourselves.
Joseph who spends his life humbly whittling away as a carpenter, perhaps a bit fearful of the demands of the world, the imports of his royal heritage, and the complications of his family situation, with God’s help, chooses the power of love, and obediently partners with Mary in parenting the Son of God. Mary, confronted with the impossibility of sacred motherhood, confused and dismayed, trustingly turns to love. Shepherds, happy to stick to their own business, now amazed and full of wonder, boldly go to witness the power of love. Christ’s love cannot be contained. Joy comes from pushing back fear and loving for another rather than our own selves. This is how we embrace the birth of Christ within each of us again this Christmas. Cast away fear. Love with a giving that gifts others; and go rejoicing! Amen and Merry Christmas!