The Christmas Scripture Matthew 1:18-28 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Prayer: Lord God – open our hearts and minds to your Word that surrounds us in the peace of this Christmas season — create in us a new heart that resonates with love for all people — we ask this of you again and we are needy people – we need your love and grace — Amen
It is good to see you here tonight as again we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus. Tonight, we come to worship for many reasons – maybe we need to be with our family, or maybe we need to see some of our friends and neighbors – or maybe – just maybe we are beginning to wonder about our future and how our life will unfold. It has been a hard year for everyone of us. The pandemic has caused major shifts in out lives and it is not letting up. We always struggle with change. We really want stability, don’t we?
Christmas time is stability and – we come to worship. We want to sing again the Christmas Carols that we remember from our childhood. We want to sing Silent Night – Holy Night – we like to worship in this historic church that has been in this same location for over 150 years. A church that has witnessed to the love of God through all of the dynamics of the past years. A church that has continually shared the love of God to this community.
We are here to be in this place that has been set aside as a place of worship – a place where we can rest – a place where we can be safe – a place where we may feel the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. We may be children or parents or families– we may be young or teenagers – newly married – or single — widow or widower–or middle age – we may be growing older – whatever it is – we are here.
Many times, we come to church bringing a sense of foreboding with us — we are confused or troubled or in pain. Our life – has been out of control – we are not able to control what is happening in our lives — life is difficult – life is challenging – life is tough. So, somewhere – deep in our inner being – we know that we are not able to continue the direction that we are going. We have to be honest with ourselves. And sometimes being honest with ourselves is the hardest thing to do. And — mysteriously – magically – unexpectedly – we hear the words in Scripture –“Do not be afraid!”
And we wonder – who are the words being spoken to — me – to my neighbor –to the pastor – but the words keep coming to us — do not be afraid — and the honest reaction occurs – they are coming to me – I should not be afraid – but we think — “I am strong” – I am in control –I am seasoned –I have the wisdom that comes with gray hair — and the words continue to come — “be not afraid!” and we cannot dismiss them! Why we ask? Because we are being challenged to change – to expect the un-expected – to be able to cope with the unknown.
In our Christmas story tonight – we see the phrase repeated several times — it always occurs as God – through angels are announcing a big coming event. This phrase be not afraid appears countless times in the Bible. It always occurs when God is announcing a big event in our lives. God sends angels to make the announcement – or God makes the announcement personally.
In the Christmas stories God’s message came to Elizabeth – that – while she was far beyond child-bearing years that she would be having a baby – John — Then, it was Gabriel heralding to Mary – a young teenage girl that she, also, was going to have a baby by the Holy Spirit—It was to Joseph as he anguished as to what his reactions should be to Mary’s pregnancy — who heard the words –“do not be afraid!” I would be afraid! – You would be! Imagine an angel – or a strong inner sense that in-spite of the difficulties — that you should not be afraid! That God really is in control —
So — on this Christmas Eve —let’s go a little deeper on this profound statement –“Do not be afraid.” What are we really afraid of: The unknown future of our lives: The unanswered results of a recent medical test? The difficulties in our relationships with our spouse or our parents or our siblings or our children— are we afraid of this?
God says – simply – do not be afraid! Maybe, we are concerned about the unexpected.
That our employment is about to cease. Our unemployment checks have ended. A significant health issue may arise. God says – simply – do not be afraid! Maybe we are concerned about the issues attached with aging like physical diminishment, or mental acuity reductions or the loss of identity and self-control, or a keen awareness of the penalties we are paying because of previous moral failings. God says – simply — do not be afraid!
Maybe we are just afraid that we cannot trust God. Many of us still live in the past – we re-plow the same old ground of our childhood issues that we have with our parents or friends or siblings as the main points of our frustration. We make excuses for our behavior – maybe we are myriad in the past—it paralyzes us from action. But we hear the same words again – “do not be afraid!”
Then we read again about the shepherds in the shepherd’s field outside of Bethlehem —
they were just tending their flocks — they were just minding their own business – it was a simple but important life in Palestine — and suddenly they heard and saw the angels — with the first words – “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people — today in the town of Bethlehem – the town of David – a Savior has been born – he is the Messiah – the Lord – this will be the sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” It was a scary and frightening event — but they overcame their fear and went to Bethlehem to check out the story they had just heard about – and found it to be true. It had to be a life changing event for them.
What happened on this first Christmas Eve – was that in-spite of the fear of the unknown – in-spite of the potential of leaving their flocks –in-spite of the possibility of being ridiculed by their friends — they followed God’s beckoning call to go to Bethlehem and to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The same is true for us — that when we listen to God’s words of do not be afraid and we finally figure out that we are being paralyzed by our fears – that we can move from a place of fear to a place of love — and suddenly – mysteriously – life begins to change for us. Could we – like the principal characters in the Christmas story – begin to overcome our fears when we hear the words –“do not be afraid?”
I have found that when I am struggling with difficult decisions or rapidly changing of events in my life that I have learned that God sends me signs – visible signs – different signs but signs that radiate trust in God. A long time ago, it was a hawk circling in the sky with the screech that is so familiar with a hawk. It was a difficult time of change in my life – but the message was very clear – Trust Me! Just recently on a clear winter day, the white jet vapor trails were visible in the sky. Suddenly two jet trails were perpendicular to each other, and I saw the sign of a cross had formed. Coincidence or God’s sign — it happened, and I felt a new sense of trust in the future that Ann and I are facing.
I think that Christmas is all about trust. It is at Christmas that we remember again that the God of Creation sent his Son to be with us and to show us just who God was and the love that God had for each of us regardless of who we were or what we did. It was and is through Jesus that the words –do not be afraid — give us that profound sense of hope in-spite of the events of our life.
Hear this story again – at Christmas and trust: One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the dark sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to him and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.”
The Lord replied: “My precious, precious child, I love you and would never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints in the sand, it was then that I carried you.” “Do not be afraid” —
Thanks be to God and Merry Christmas!