Christmas Eve Meditation 2018

December 24, 2018
Christmas Eve
Luke 2:1-20

I’m not sure when I realized that trying to tell people how to feel doesn’t work very well.

I knew that it rarely worked on me. If I was sad, having somebody else tell me that I was supposed to feel happy about… whatever it was… didn’t change my sadness. If I was angry, it didn’t accomplish much to hear people say, “You’ve got no reason to be angry.” If I was happy about something, it didn’t change things if somebody told me it wasn’t so special.

Well, it did. It made me angry with them. But in my mind, that something was still special.

I don’t know when I realized that about myself. I do know that it took a lot longer to realize that it worked the other way around, too, that telling somebody else how they should feel didn’t change how they actually felt. Except, of course, to get them angry with me.

Bear with me for a moment, but I’m about to claim that I’m wiser than an angel. Because the angel on the hillside told the shepherds how to feel: “Do not be afraid.”

And now that I know better, I wouldn’t do that.

This is probably why I’m not an angel.

“Fear not,” “Do not fear,” and “Do not be afraid,” are frequent sentences in the Bible. I’m afraid it’s not true that there’s 365 occurrences in the Scriptures, but here are some of the people who were told, “Do not be afraid.” You may recognize some of the names:

Abraham. Hagar. Isaac. Rachel. Jacob. Moses. Joshua. David. Solomon. Elijah. Hezekiah. Jeremiah. Ezekiel. Zechariah. Mary. Joseph. Simon Peter. Jesus’ disciples. Mary Magadalene. The Apostle Paul.

And, over and over again, the people of God.

“Do not be afraid.”

We might well feel afraid. 2018 has been a distressing year. On January 13th, we woke to a ballistic missile warning. Doesn’t that seem like ages ago? Since then we’ve had fires, a volcanic eruption, and a full-on hurricane. Despite substantial gains in reducing family homelessness this year, Hawai’i has the highest proportion of homeless residents of any US state. Political turmoil around the nation has, among other things, set back efforts to reduce human impact on the climate, and to deal with the effects of climate change. And I fear that we are getting accustomed to untruths.

Charles L. Campbell writes (in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1): “The political powers, in both Jesus’ day and our own, play on fear to get their way – whether it be the fear of the emperor, the fear of terrorists, the fear of the ‘other’ (the immigrant), or the fear of death. But with ‘this day’ comes a new possibility. The first words spoken after Jesus’ birth are ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.’”

I am not here to tell you how to feel. I am here to summon you, whatever you feel, to follow the shepherds on their road to Bethlehem. I’m pretty sure that when the angel told them not to be afraid, they stayed afraid. They kept trembling. They kept shaking in their sandals. 

But their fear did not keep them rooted in place. They summoned the courage to follow the angel’s directions down from the hills to the town, to find the stable, to marvel at the child.

They summoned the courage to praise God on their way back to the flocks. I’m sure they were still a little frightened at the night’s events. I’m sure as well that they were puzzled and uncertain at what it would mean for them. I’m positive that they were tired from their late-night journeying.

Whatever they felt, they summoned the courage to praise God.

This season evokes so many feelings: devotion, depression, happiness, hopelessness, irritation, adulation, weariness, wonder, and more.

There is our challenge, our summons, our Christmas miracle: to come to the Christ child and to take all these feelings – anger, adoration, fear, confidence, surprise, grief, sadness, gladness, all of those and more – to take all these feelings and act as if they come together into courage, into love, and into hope. 

A child has been born for us, a savior given to us. Authority rests on his shoulders, and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Take courage. Love. Hope. And at the risk of telling you how to feel: Do not be afraid.


Listen to the Recorded Meditation

Does it match the prepared text? Why, no! That’s what makes it a Christmas adventure…

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on December 25, 2018

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