Fear Not 12-24-14 Christmas Eve

This sermon for Christmas Eve is based on the birth narrative from Luke 2:1-20. In the sermon I explore the notion that heavenly beings always seem to open a conversation with “Fear Not.” And I wonder aloud just why that is.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/fear-not-12-24-14

You can also follow along with the text from the sermon here:

On this most special of nights, grace and peace to you from God our Father, our newly born Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Well everyone…we can finally say it…Merry Christmas everyone…after another long season of planning…getting everything lined up…here we are…finally at the big day. And for most of you sitting out there tonight…I’m guessing there has been a great deal of prep work leading up to this moment hasn’t there?
Decorations of every kind to find and put up…lights, trees, wreathes…stocking hung by the chimney with care and all that. As I look around I see many of you in fancy new Christmas outfits…there have been travel plans to arrange…family visitors to accommodate, Christmas feasts to shop and prepare for.

Here in the church, we’ve done a fair amount of prep work as well. Getting the sanctuary decorated…prepping worship for this evening…lining up the special bulletins and the volunteers for different jobs…getting all the candles ready and prepping a special batch of communion for this evening…All around…people have been hustling and bustling to get ready for the big day.

But despite all the craziness of the season…which is admittedly, drastic…there are also those fun little things about the holiday season that make it special every year. There are a few different things that brighten up the season at my house…for instance, the ever growing ring of Christmas cards and letters that form up around our kitchen window as we get the yearly update from many different people. And one other one is the ever present stream of Christmas specials that play on tv…sometimes even on a continuous loop.

I always enjoy these specials…the new ones and the old reliable ones…but the one that sticks out in my memory the sharpest has to be A Charlie Brown Christmas…which first debuted in 1965 and has run every year since then.

I love this show…I think its great…it features everything from Charlie Brown attempting to direct all the kids in the Christmas Play…starring Lucy as the Christmas Queen of course…we have Snoopy going all out to win the Christmas decoration contest with his dog house…several instances of people getting called Blockhead…and a ratty little Christmas tree that somehow manages to gain or lose branches from scene to scene.

But in what is probably my favorite portion of the whole show…Charlie Brown is freaking out at the dress rehearsal of the Christmas play when no one is cooperating with his direction…in normal fashion he throws his head back and screams “DOESN’T ANYONE KNOW WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT?” (pause)

And Linus…brilliant as always…with his strong moral compass…and his blanket in tow says…Sure Charlie Brown…I know what Christmas is all about…He walks out center stage…asks for the lights to come down around him…and then Linus rattles off a perfect King James version of the shepherds story from tonight’s gospel.

And there was in the same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night…and LO…the angel of the Lord came upon them…the glory of the Lord shone around them…and they were sore afraid…and the angel said unto them…Fear not… (pause)

Linus finishes the rest of the story in a calm monotone…walks off stage, back to Charlie Brown to say…that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. (pause) I’ve always loved that scene…even when I was a kid…who knows…maybe it was a preconceived notion of my eventual day job…but I have always appreciated how Charlie Brown, in a mainstream special, still gets the point across. (pause)

Now all of that being said…I do chuckle at the King Jamesy version that Linus presents…particularly the notion that the shepherds were sore afraid. (pause) Sore afraid…just what does that really mean anyway? The language is, interesting to say the least. I mean, I know what afraid means…that’s obvious…and I know what sore means…I’m a runner after all…I’m familiar with soreness…and so we’ve got these two familiar terms…and I wonder if it’s a good idea to put them together…kind of like taking tacos and pizza…two wonderful foods that combine into a monstrocity…I think it’s the same deal here. Sore afraid.

I guess if we take it literally it would mean that the shepherds were so terrified, that it made them physically hurt. (pause) Have you ever been that scared? Has something ever frightened you so much that it physically effected you?

I had an instance just a few weeks back…driving up north to visit some family when the roads were a little dicey…and during that drive, particularly the last 10 miles, I was on glare ice…and I was hunched over the steering wheel…tense beyond belief…afraid that one wrong move would shoot us off into the ditch…and when that drive was finally over, my shoulders and neck physically hurt…what do you think…is that a good example of being “Sore afraid?” (pause) Somehow, I don’t quite think that cuts it.

But just what is it? What does it mean to be sore afraid…very likely, we can best describe it as scared to death…almost literally…and the interesting thing about this whole deal is what causes it.

Here’s the shepherds…just hanging out in the fields at night…trying their best to stay awake and keep watch…likely engaging in some sort of conversation as they didn’t have smart phones to keep them occupied…and who knows what they were talking about…perhaps the census that the Emperor had commanded…when all of the sudden…out of nowhere…an angel came upon them surrounded by the glory of the Lord.

This is what terrified them…the very presence of the angel…even before the angel starts talking…its just…there…and you know what…we’ve seen this sort of thing before. All throughout the Old Testament…anytime an individual encounters the angel of the Lord…they freak out…terrified even to the point of death…which sorta raises the question of just what these angels really look like…Something tells me it isn’t just the nice handsome guy in a white robe with wings and a halo shining over his head.

Each and everytime an angel of the Lord shows up…we hear the same greeting. Fear not…Don’t be afraid…Don’t fear. Across the board it happens…and not just in the Old Testament…but we hear the same sort of thing over and over again in the New Testament.

Our gospel story for tonight comes from Luke chapter 2, as it does every Christmas…and as we know it features the birth of Christ…but you know what…Luke Chapter 1 features two more stories of the angel of the Lord appearing to someone. First, we hear that the angel appears to Zechariah…a priest best known as the father of John the Baptist…then we hear that the angel appears to Mary…both of these individuals learn that they are going to the parent of an important figure…one who will shape history…but before either one of them get the message…the very first thing they hear is “Fear not.”

It doesn’t end there either…this baby…this Jesus…born this day grows up…and in his ministry we see this very same theme. When Jesus called the first disciples…Peter, James, John, and Andrew…some of his first words spoken to them, even before he names them disciples…even before he tells them that they will become fishers of men…Jesus tells them…Fear not.

We hear it again when Jesus is sleeping in the boat with all 12 disciples…and the wind and waves terrify them to the point of death…Jesus stops the storm with a word and asks them…Why are you afraid? (pause)

It seems…each and every time the notion of fear comes up around a divine being…whether God himself…or an angel…or Jesus here on earth…we hear the phrase Fear Not. And it typically happens along with some sort of faith based situation. Zechariah…your son, born to you and your wife in old age will be a forerunner of Messiah…but don’t be afraid. (pause) Mary, you who are a virgin, will give birth to a son, who will be the Son of God…but don’t be afraid. (pause) You Shepherds…you will be witnesses…you will testify to the birth of the messiah…so go and see…and Do Not…Be…Afraid. (pause)

Perhaps you’ve heard me talk about repetition before. That when something is repeated in the Bible, it usually means it’s pretty important…and if in fact that is the case then maybe, just maybe we are all supposed to get this same message. Fear Not.

And if that is the case…then tonight I pose the question to you…what is it that you fear? (pause) In each and every case we’ve talked about tonight, God was asking something of the individual. Asking for them to trust…asking them to step out in faith and believe the promises that God was making for them.

We’re called to the very same thing…and sometimes…sometimes…that can be terrifying…a life of faith…a life of trusting in the promises that God has made is not always easy…a life of faith does not come fully equipped with all the answers and every contingency mapped out for us…yet God still comes to us asking that we trust him…asking that we believe in the promises that he has made…and reassuring us that we do not need to be afraid.

Tonight we celebrate with joy and thanksgiving the birth of the savior…which the angel told the shepherds is good news of great joy which is to ALL people…ALL people and that my friends…includes each and every one of you.

Born today in the city of David is a savior who is Christ the Lord. And in recognizing that to be true we ask the question of just what he saves us from…and the answer to that will be discovered a few months from now, when we gather together and recognize that God himself entered into this world as a helpless baby in order to one day take the cross and beat back death…and he does it for each and every one of us so that in the end…we no longer fear death…but recognize that through his life we are reconciled to God. (pause)

The baby born this day…lying in the manger…has been born in order to die…and shocking as that might be…we don’t need to fear that either…because this is the work of God…the work that God is doing in our reality…in order to bring us back into relationship with him.

What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping…this is the child who was born to die for all mankind…he brings the kingdom of heaven with him…he brings peace and joy…he brings healing and salvation…and even more importantly…in his life, death, and resurrection, he will bring an end to death. (pause)
And that, Charlie Brown…is what Christmas…is all about. Amen.

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