On this night we are made glad by the yearly festival of the only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. This holy night shines with the brightness of the true light. On this night we, like the shepherds before us, are confronted by an angel bringing good news of great joy, and witness a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest.” This is the night of the Incarnation, the night when God broke into our realm to be with us.
And we are afraid.
We are afraid of the true light that shines in the darkness and in the dark corners of our lives that we would rather keep dark.
We are afraid of being confronted by good news that threatens to overturn systems of our own making or that reveals how poorly we've managed God's creation.
We are afraid of coming into contact with the heavenly host as they sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” and wonder at how we have fallen short of giving God the glory due his name.
We are afraid of God, lying in a manger, helpless and at our mercy, and wonder if God will treat us the way we treat other vulnerable people in need.
We are afraid because, like a disobedient Adam in the garden, we are coming face to face with God.
But, like the shepherds before us, we are being given a message delivered by angels. That message, first and foremost, is this: Do Not Be Afraid.
Do not be afraid of the light that exposes the darkness; be thankful that the light of God removes all darkness from your life.
Do not be afraid that systems we made will be overturned; be thankful that God's system will prevail and that all creation will be made new.
Do not be afraid of falling short; be thankful that we get to join the heavenly chorus.
Do not be afraid of a helpless God lying in a manger; be thankful for a God who shows us what it's like to see the face of God incarnate in the face of others.
I suppose God could've chosen to come in a very different way. God could've chosen to come in power and glory, with the army of heaven behind him, setting the world ablaze and offering us no chance. That's what people, both then and now, expect.
Instead, God has done the unexpected. God has come to dwell with us in the form of a man, beginning his journey like we all do, tiny, vulnerable, and totally dependent on others. It is in this baby that, like the song says, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
All of this comes into our thoughts as we look into the face of the Christ child. For those of us who are parents, there is boundless hope in the face of a child. The future is wide open with nothing but great possibilities. But there are also a great many fears. Everything from, “What if I drop him,” to “What if she marries the wrong person,” and so many others. If we aren't careful, we can allow those fears to overtake us. But fear is easy.
This is why the message of the angels is, “Fear not.”
Do not be afraid of the light of God.
Do not be afraid to give more than you think wise.
Do not be afraid to love more than is safe.
Do not be afraid to sing with the angels.
How might we claim that fearlessness that the angels announce to the shepherds and to us? One way might be for us to think of God as our baby or our child. Thinking of God in this way might be a little unorthodox, but let me explain why it works.
When we have a baby, we work to provide a hopeful future for that child. How are we providing a hopeful future for the people of this parish and city in the name of God?
When we have a baby, we work to provide nourishment for its health and continued growth. How are we nourishing the people of this place in the name of God?
When we have a baby, we make sacrifices so it has what it needs. What sacrifices are we making for God in our lives today?
When we have a baby, its smile and laugh can light up a room and drive away all darkness. Can we see that same joy and light in our relationship with God?
And when we have a baby, we sing. We sing lullabies, we sing silly songs, we hum. Do we allow ourselves to sing out for God on a regular basis?
The Incarnation of God in human form is probably the most important miracle and event in our history. Having God come among us as an infant can open our eyes to a new way of seeing and relating to God.
And the only way we can do this, the only way we can be hopeful, be nourished, sacrifice, laugh, and sing is to be not afraid.
Be not afraid to let this child change your life.
Be not afraid to see God as a baby who needs you.
Be not afraid.