Preached at United Reformed Church at the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, December 24, 2020
Every year in December the editors of the Oxford Dictionary choose one word that sums up the year. It’s not a subjective choice; rather they keep track of how frequently certain words appear in print, TV, radio and social media. Inevitably they come up with a short list of the most used words of the year and from that they choose one for the whole year. However, since 2020 was such an extraordinary year in every way, they were hard pressed to choose just one word; so instead chose 15. Many of them had to do with the pandemic: “corona virus, Covid-19, lock down, social distancing’—and many had to do with politics—“impeachment, acquittal, Black Lives Matter, cancel culture,” and even, “mail-in.”
Methodist pastor, Randy Murphy, suggests that the word of the year should be FEAR. He says
In my mind, fear is the word that summarizes 2020. Even left unspoken, it’s in our minds! Much of what has happened this year has been fear based: fear of getting corona virus, fear of political changes, fear of isolation and abandonment, fear of financial losses, fear of racial injustice, fear of the future. And the list goes on.” (Source: )source: A Christmas Command: Do Not Be Afraid! ‹ Coffee with Randy ‹ Reader — WordPress.com
And so on this Christmas Eve we are gathered here, bringing with us our fears and disappointments, to hear the word of the angel, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10, KJV)
As we consider this passage, I want to focus on three phrases, 1) Fear Not, 2) Great Joy, and 3) A Savior.
James Hastings, a 19th century Scottish theologian, says “Fear is the needle that pierces us that it may carry a thread to bind us to heaven.” In other words, fear is the way that God stitches our heart to his heart. Fear is a gift that opens the door to a deeper knowledge of God. Fear upends our comfortable life and opens us to the possibility of something bigger than ourselves. “
The shepherds had their life upended by an angel who put the fear of God in them.
In the popular imagination angels are anything but frightening. For us angels are either cute, chubby, little babies with wings, or elegant, winged, Victorian women with impeccable hair styles. Our reactions are either “Oh, how cute” or “O how beautiful!”
But in the Bible whenever someone encounters an angel their immediate reaction is fear. When Isaiah saw the six-winged seraphim worshipping God on his throne he cried out “Woe is me! I am lost!” Angels seem to know that they are terrifying, because they first thing they said to shepherds was “Fear not.” Even Mary appears to be frightened by the presence of Gabriel for his first words to her are also “Fear not!”
But fear is simply a messenger of God. Before we can hear good news we need to be startled out of our complacency. Fear can be a good thing because it prepares the way for our hearts to experience joy. When we are afraid the angels proclaim, “Fear not!”
The hallmark of the Christian life is joy. Psalm 16: 1 says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. The Apostle Paul says, “The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And Nehemiah 8:10 says “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Think about that for a minute. When do you feel most alive? Most vibrant? Most happy? It’s in the moments of joy.
Pastor J Waits says
A week’s worth of joy is not such a bad thing to have. Better would be a whole season of it. Even better than that is a permanent joy that no amount of trouble or fear can shake loose from our hearts. When Jesus arrived on this earth in the form of a little baby, that’s exactly what He came bringing with Him. Joy! Morning Musing: Luke 2:10-11 ‹ The Nexus ‹ Reader — WordPress.comsource: Morning Musing: Luke 2:10-11 ‹ The Nexus ‹ Reader — WordPress.com
Notice that the joy the angels announced wasn’t just for the shepherds, it was for all people. Someone once said, “A burden shared is a burdened halved; but a joy shared is a joy doubled.” Perhaps that is why small children can’t keep a secret at Christmas time. They get so excited that they will say something like: “Guess what, Mommy? Daddy took us shopping and we bought you a Christmas present, but it’s not a necklace!” And of course it is a necklace! But the child is so filled with joy and love and so wants to share it that they can’t keep it inside. Joy always leaks out of our hearts and into the lives of those we love.
The third phrase is “A SAVIOR.” The remedy for our fear and the reason for our joy is Jesus. The angel tells us three things about who Jesus is
First, He is the Savior. At some point, all of us have made a mess of our lives. There are no perfect people in this life, just perfect messes. Sometimes I’m one and sometimes so are you. But God has not given up on us. In Romans 5:6-8, the Apostle Paul says,
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Jesus proved his love for us not only by being born in a manger but also by dying on a cross for our sins. Jesus is the Savior. He came to save us from our sins. He came to save us from ourselves. He came to make us God’s own children.
Second, He is the Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s plans; He is the promised one.
Jesus’ birth was not some last minute gift thrown together in a just few days. His birth was the culmination of 2000 years of promises made by God. This fall we have been working our way through the Old Testament and we have discovered how carefully God prepared for the coming of Jesus. He made promises to Abraham and David. He gave prophesies that foreshadowed the coming of the anointed one. When the angel calls Jesus, the Christ, he is reminding us that God has been in it for the long haul and now at last his promises and plans are coming to fruition.
The title of Christ, means that Jesus is not some last minute gift purchased the day before December 24th. Rather he is a precious treasure that God has been crafting and preparing for thousands of years. God cares enough about us to give us the greatest treasure ever made.
Third, Jesus is the Lord. This is a title conveying the divinity of Jesus. When Gabriel spoke to Mary she told her that Jesus would be the son of the Most High. When Gabriel spoke to Joseph, he told him that he would be Emmanuel, God with us. This is a title of divinity. He is not only the son of Mary but he is also the Son of God. One day, every knee shall bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Jesus—the savior, the Christ, the Lord—is the reason for our joy. After the angels left the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” This Christmas we need to join the shepherds as they worship Christ. To quote the words of a carol we sometime sing.
Let us run to meet our Savior.from a carol by Rev. Michael A. Weber. O Be Joyful
Let us go without delay!
Let us give our lives unto him.
Let us worship him today!
O be joyful! O be joyful!
O be joyful, Christ is born!
To see the whole song follow this link
O Be Joyful – Musings and Wonderment