by Rev Ed Montano
After waiting in anticipation for 27 days of Advent, we have finally arrived at the joyous celebration and remembrance of the birth of Christ, Emanuel, God among us!
We are all very familiar, in the western world, with the images of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in prayerful contemplation in a stable surrounded by calm and resting animals. Young children get out of bed much too early on Christmas morning to see what is under the tree, but we, as parents and grandparents, don’t seem to mind the dreadful early rise just so we can see the sheer joy in our children’s eyes. Later, we look forward to gathering with our families and friends for a meal and time together. That’s the usual way we mark Christmas, some will attend church services (even if only virtually) late on Christmas eve, some on Christmas day, others will not even think about church and faith, yet will also enjoy the yule tide glad traditions.
Then we realize that we are still living in a world of restrictions in terms of being able to gather with our friends and families. We just don’t seem to be able to find a light big enough at the end of the tunnel. We certainly must remain vigilant and ensure we follow public health guidelines to ensure the health and safety of our fellow citizens, as any and all persons of faith must do, even if we remain apprehensive, at best, about our immediate future…
I’d like to bring us back to one aspect of the nativity story as we find in Luke’s gospel. When the shepherds were keeping watch at night, the angel appeared to them…I can hardly imagine what must have been going through their minds when they saw this other-worldly event. I would think they’d be terrified, as I would be! Yet the first thing the angel says is, “Do not be afraid!” The rest of the story is rather well known. I’d like to focus on these four words, ‘do not be afraid.’
What do these words mean to us? Do they mean the same as they did to those shepherds? The shepherds had no idea why something like that was happening to them, nor why they were chosen to hear the angel’s message, but they heard and [eventually] were filled with joy and went to meet the baby Jesus. What do we hear and how do we feel when we hear the word, ‘do not be afraid’? Yes, sure, it’s easy for some of us to just say them, even if it’s to provide some comfort to others, but in the world we are living today, those words have a special meaning.
As people of faith and as ministers, we are to be the shepherds hearing and heeding those words. In advent, we prepared by experiencing and practicing hope, peace, joy and love, which gave us the ability to face the scary aspects of life, to be ready to fully receive the angel’s words and not be afraid. We are given the courage to go forth, to journey a great distance to behold the most certain presence of God with us. The Christmas story gave us so much more than presents under the tree, or gathering with family and friends, or another opportunity to have a party. It gives us the ultimate opportunity to face our fears directly, with the knowledge that the God of our ancestors has come to live among us, that we are no longer alone waiting to be rescued, or saved from a harsh and unforgiving world. The incarnation of God in the nativity story means that all human beings are a part of the divine life, that God taking human flesh is not an isolated incident that happened 2000 years ago and that was it. It means that we now share in the nature of the Cosmic Christ, and thus are sent forth to proclaim good news to a world that needs good news and goodness all around.
The angel’s words resonate well before this realization of ours. I admit that I am, sometimes, very afraid about living God’s calling, to be a part of God’s plan and action because God resides within me. And then the same realization comforts me in the knowledge that God calls me AND walks with me all along the way, that I’m not along on this journey. Christmas brings us that comfort and joy, the strength and conviction we need to, again, listen and take heed to the angel’s greeting, “Do not be afraid”. Let us live this Christmas Season in the joy and comfort of knowing God is incarnate, not only in the human person of Jesus Christ, but also in me, in you, in everyone we know and in everyone we meet. Let us not be afraid to live this and to share it with the rest of creation. Let us go in peace without fear to love and serve one another.
Happy and joyful Christmas.