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Christmas Eve Sermon: Do Not Be Afraid!

December 29, 2015

This sermon was preached at the 10:45 Christmas Eve candlelight service of Holy Communion:

“Do Not Be Afraid!”

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus Christ, the our newborn King and the Savior of the world.


Twas the night before Christmas,

Our first here at Grace

And Mommy and Daddy have finished the race.


Though we have no chimney

And, I pray, no mice,

All is now ready and hopefully nice.


So now our dear daughter,

Along with two boys,

Are nestled and snug in Oak Park…Illinois.


While they do not know yet

What sugarplums are,

No doubt they see visions: LEGOs and toy cars.


For Christmas is coming,

All as it should be,

They can’t wait to discover what’s under the tree.


So they dream with excitement,

Barely able to rest,

Knowing Christmas will come, bringing only the best.


And yet while they sleep,

Awaiting morn’s light,

The world still is darkened and filled with great fright.


For even on Christmas,

The world lives in fear,

How can we hear good news, how can we find cheer?


And that is the question, is it not? For our world lives in fear, indeed. Here, amidst these long nights, the darkness is so deep. Here, at the close of the year, we are mindful of the drumbeat of war. Our year has brought us into a fearful awareness of ISIS. There are those who would have us fear our neighbors throughout the world, who would have us believe that every refugee is a threat to our security, that those who are different from us should be shunned. Our children and grandchildren sleep this night, we pray, in blissful ignorance of the world’s dangers; but we, we grown-ups, live in a world of darkness and danger. A world of fear.

A recent Time magazine survey detailed the fears of Americans in these days. What are we afraid of? Corruption in our government, and the same government tracking our personal information. We are afraid of terrorism, and cyber-terrorism, and biological warfare. We are afraid of another economic collapse; we are afraid of running out of money and having our identities stolen. Of course, the list seems incomplete to me; maybe you were afraid that this entire sermon would be a hackneyed poem. Had Time asked my opinion, I would have added clowns to the list, along with my deep fear springing from the fact that the Royals have yet to sign a left fielder for next season. But whatever our personal fears may be, there is no doubt we have them, these things that cause us to worry and keep us awake while our children sleep.

Of course, this is no different that it ever has been. The darkness has always been there, always been a cause for worry in the night. So it was for the shepherds long ago, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Who knows what they worried about – predators and sheep-stealers, no doubt. Possibly for the safety of their families while they were away working. Certainly about their own safety and well-being as they tried to eke out a living under the rule of an oppressive empire that cared nothing for them.

And in the middle of their sleepless night, their cares and their fears, erupts the full glory of the Lord shining around them, an angel of the Lord appearing before them. The angel speaks, addressing not only the shepherds’ immediate concern that a heavenly messenger had appeared out of nowhere, but, as a voice bringing light into darkness, speaking words to the fearful of all times and places: “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. Why? Because good news and glad tidings are here, bringing great joy to all people. Because a baby has been born, born to us this day in the city of David, a baby boy who is the Messiah, the Lord, the One who has come to bring light into the darkness, to move us from sorrow into joy, from death into life, from fear into hope. Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth!

In those days of Augustus and Quirinius, the people lived in fear. In these days of terror and uncertainty, the people live in fear. But God, in divine wisdom and unending love, has chosen to enter our world. God, wrapped up not as a present under the tree but wrapped up instead in our very flesh and blood, to live for us and, finally, to die for us. To show what is the height and the depth and the breadth of God’s love for us. To take our sin upon himself. To preach the kingdom that comes already today, a kingdom founded not on fear but on love and mercy, justice and peace, for all people. A kingdom in which there is nothing left to fear, for Christ is born among us, Emmanuel, God-with-us. To shine in our darkness with a light the darkness cannot overcome.

Jesus is born, our Messiah has come among us, and our fears and despair are put to flight. During the great conflict of the Civil War, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, still mourning the death of his wife, received a letter from his son, Charles Appleton Longfellow. The younger Longfellow, aware of his father’s desire for the son to stay out of the conflict, felt that he could no longer avoid what he felt to be his first duty to his country and that he was willing to give his life if it would be of service. Shortly thereafter, Charles was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church, a bitterly ironic name for a battle if ever there was one. His fears for his son realized, the despondent poet wrote the powerful poem, “Christmas Bells,” which we know through the familiar carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” He gives powerful voice to his fearful despair: “And in despair I bowed my head; ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said; ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!’” Yes, to Longfellow, the fearful darkness was too deep, the despair too powerful. Until the poet hears the bells ring out again: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.’”

God is not dead. God does not sleep. For Christ is born, bringing peace and goodwill to all people, everywhere. Yes, the world is dark place. But on this night, and now on all nights, the light shines brighter. On this night, God invites us into the peace that is born in a stable and laid in a manger, the peace that is Jesus himself, God with us in the darkness. Come, and see this gift, wrapped in bands of cloth, this gift treasured by Mary, this gift sung to by the angels – this gift given for all people, given to you. Come, and leave your fears behind. Jesus is born. Jesus still lives. Do not be afraid. Rest now, as the children do, safe in his love, his peace, his life – forever. Amen.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, today and forever. Amen.

From → Sermons

  1. Marla permalink

    I usually watch the video of your sermon but I clicked and read it. (Who prints it out? Don’t you usually just do bullet it’s?) it was wonderful and hopeful. A great Christmas – and 4 days later – message to read. I pictured your 3 tucked in their beds with angelic faces. The joy of their faces in the morning! Dark brings light… God gives the light! And powerful too about the writing of “the bells on Christmas Day!”

  2. Hi Marla! They didn’t record the sermon on Christmas Eve, so I thought I’d share this. I’ve been writing slightly fuller notes for my sermons. Then, after the fact, I type up something resembling a manuscript. A lot of folks at Grace like to have written copies to share with shut-in members, so I’ve obliged by giving them something to share!

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