Sermon preached for Christmas Eve, the Eve of the Nativity of our Lord, December 24, 2009.
When I was a little boy I would tuck the covers of my bed in beside me to prevent any of my limbs from extending outside the bed. After all, everyone knew there were monsters under the bed. To extend an arm or leg was to dangle bait in front of the unknowns that hid in the darkness. That was my fear as a child. I have come a long way since then. Every now and then I purposefully extend a limb out – it is not because I am brave; I think it is like a test to see if the things I feared are still there.
Kids have fears. Some of them are fanciful like the presumed monster under the bed. Some of them are honest fears like passing a test or making the team. Some of them are dark and very real – like the divorce of your parents or the death of a grandparent. My childhood fears were a whole lot less menacing than the things kids fear today. Drugs, offenders and abusers of the worst kind and violence are among the top fears of kids today. Much worse than the things I was afraid; kids have more to deal with than I did growing up so long ago.
Adults have fears too. A few of our fears are little things but many of them a giant and real. We fear losing our jobs and being unable to support our families. We fear distance that turns husbands and wives into strangers. We fear not giving our children what they really need. We fear paying the bills after Christmas has come and gone. We fear sending our kids to war in far off places. We fear rogue nations that have nuclear powers. We fear terrorists who look and sound like the people next door.
We all have fears – those of us nearer life's beginning... and those of us near life’s end. We have legitimate and real fears that won’t go away just because somebody lifts up the blanket and says there is nothing there or pats us on the back and says everything is going to be okay. We all have fears, real fears. This is why Christmas is so important. We come tonight to remember the God who promised to deal with our fears, the prophetic Word that sustained the people of old in their fears, and the One whose birth fulfilled that promise. Fear not... Do not be afraid. Here are equal opportunity words for today – for the old and young, the rich and poor, for wild imaginations and calm self-control. Do not be afraid! I am with you!
The Christmas story begins with the call “Do not be afraid.” Zechariah was afraid that he would die without a son and angel brought him the good news that Elizabeth was pregnant with a son. Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your son shall prepare the way of the Lord, the voice in the wilderness. Don’t forget Mary the Virgin, to whom an angel’s appearance was the cause not of joy but of great fear and trembling. “Do not be afraid,” said the angel to this young woman. But her favor with the Lord meant being a pregnant Virgin engaged to man who would not understand that the child in her womb belonged to the Lord. Fear no, Mary!
And then there was Joseph who found out the Virgin he was engaged to and had not touched was pregnant. “Do not fear taking Mary as your wife,” the angel said. But Joseph had much to fear in his reputation, his stature in the community, and a world that loved scandal. Then when she delivered her first born Son and laid Him in a manger, the news that went out to the shepherds from the mouths of angels was, again, “Do not be afraid.” Accustomed to predators and thieves, the shepherds were not prepared for a sky full of angels singing to them. “Fear not, indeed.”
And so we come tonight with all of our fears and to us the angel still says, “Do not be afraid!” But how can you NOT be afraid. There is everything to fear. Our world is like a house of cards and we are always one breath away from total destruction. What difference can an angel’s greeting mean to us with all our problems, worries, and fears?? God gives to us exactly what we need . Not with words only does He speak. “Do not be afraid.” No, He comes with nothing less than His presence, His power, and His peace to answer our fears. “I am with you, I forgive you, I will save you, nothing will come between you and me.” says the Lord. Words that deliver on their promise because of the Baby laid in a manger by a Virgin Mother so long ago.
Do not be afraid. Your sins are not greater than God’s forgiveness. Your troubles are not greater than God’s mercy. Your sorrows are not greater than His joy. Your struggles are not bigger than His power. Do not be afraid is exactly what we need to hear tonight. This is not some naive “all is well” but God who comes to live in our world of fear so that we might have peace, who is born to die so we might live, whose is present among us in Word & Sacrament.
On most Sunday mornings you hear me pray, just before we commune, “Deliver us O Lord from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In Your mercy keep us from all sin and protect us from all fear as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord.” That is what He gives to us – hope to answer all our fears. We pray “protect us from all our fears... and in all our fears.” Who was born of Mary and laid in the manger – He is the answer to all our fears. He is the peace that passes understanding, the source of our endless joy.
The Lord does not lie to us and say “You have nothing to fear.” We know better than that. As a child afraid of what was under my bed, it did nothing to calm my fears when my mom or dad told me there was nothing there. What comforted me was the fact that my mom and dad were with me. I was not alone. That is what God says to us through the gift of His Son. Your fears may be real but My power is even more real. You may have many fears, but I am here and my power is greater than all your enemies. Jesus was born to answer the fears of young and old, great and small. Jesus was born to address our fear of living and our fear of dying... our fear of getting what we want and of giving away what we might need... our fear of the things we cannot control and the things we can control. He answers them all.
He comes in flesh and blood to keep the promise of God that we will never be alone... that sin and death do not get the last word in our lives... that we are not on our own to face our enemies... that we don’t have to figure out how to redeem our lives from fear’s power, Christ has don it. Christmas is the birth of hope to a people captive to our fears. Christmas is the gift of God’s presence so that we are not alone – not ever. Christmas is the Lord addressing with mercy when we expected condemnation or rejection. Christmas is God breaking up the monopoly of fear in our lives with the gift of His own Son, wearing our human flesh and blood to live with us in our world of fear and to overcome everyone of those fears even at the cost of His own life on the cross. The fears we cannot face, He faces for us. In Christ we stare into the face of our fears with the power of the cross and empty tomb. Fear has met its master in Jesus Christ, born of Mary and laid in a manger. God is here. Emmanuel. The God who is with us.
This little Babe has come to take on the power of fear, the burden of guilt, the darkness of death, the bondage of sin, and the brokenness of our lost lives. He grew up to face all our enemies and He put Himself between us and our enemies on the cross. When we peer into the manger tonight, we see the face of Him who is bigger than our enemies and powerful enough to answer all our fears. So I bid you come. Come to the manger and lay down all our fears, big and small, foolish and real... lay down all that troubles you... lay down all your weakness and all your sin... lay down your despair and pain... Here in the manger is the Lord of life and death who has come to answer your fears. Leave them here and take faith home with you. Leave behind the guilt that torments your soul and the fear of living and dying that keeps you from living the abundant life of Jesus' promise. Leave them here and walk out that door trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, restored to His joy and peace through this Word and this Sacrament that keep His promise and keep Him near, full of grace and mercy, hope and truth. Walk away from all your fears, from sin, from the threat of your enemies... all through the power of His forgiveness, life, and salvation... Live in the knowledge that You belong to Him and that nothing is greater than His good and gracious saving will extended to you in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do not be afraid. He is with you always. Amen.