Shepherds, Do Not Be Afraid – December 24, 2014 – Christmas Eve – Luke 2: 1 – 20

I have been preaching about the archangel Gabriel this Advent season. We started by reading the story of Gabriel’s visit to the priest Zechariah to announce John the Baptist’s birth. John would prepare the way for the coming Savior and was the answer to years of prayer by Zechariah and Elizabeth. Next, we read the story of Gabriel’s visit to Mary to announce Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit. Mary would be the mother of the Son of God who would reign on the throne of King David. Her baby was not the answer to prayer, but an invitation to participate in God’s plan of salvation. Third, we read the story of Gabriel’s visit to Joseph to announce Jesus’ birth. Joseph was invited to take Mary as his wife and too participate in God’s plan of salvation. Joseph would have to trust the angel’s word as the word of God.

Tonight, we read the story of the birth of Jesus, the baby foretold by Gabriel, and once again encounter Gabriel. This time, Gabriel appears to lowly shepherds asleep in the fields on a cold, dark night. The Scripture doesn’t tell us that this angel is Gabriel, but we know it is. The angel’s appearance follows Gabriel’s pattern. Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid.” He announces the birth of Jesus, tells of His role, and gives a sign that all he says is true. Jesus has been born who is the Lord, the Messiah and the sign is that there is a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger in Bethlehem.

Our world may seem dark. There are thoughts of cyberwar with North Korea. Russia is grabbing land from Ukraine. Isis is taking over the Middle East. Protests around the nation call for justice and racial healing. The actions of cops are under scrutiny. Acts of terror have reached our streets. Cops have been assassinated as a man tries to enact his own justice. The fear of Ebola took hold of our nation for months. Drugs and alcohol hold the life of many addicts. Women and children are assaulted, abused, or enslaved. Families live in the dark with no heat and too many families will have nothing to eat tomorrow. Veterans live on the streets unable to find work or housing. Many in our congregation have had surgery or needed medical care this year.

Our world, our nation, our families are in crisis. Into that darkness, tonight is born a great light. When that Light of the world shines into the darkness, we see that the world is not as it should be. We see that the Prince of Peace born has not yet taken His throne on Earth, but sits on the throne in Heaven waiting for the fulfillment of time. We cling to hope that one day His love and compassion, peace and justice will be the order of the world, not chaos and brokenness. Our hope is that which we hold onto, hope for a better day, when reality shows us that the world is not as it should be.

Luke takes the time to tell us that the reason Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem was for a census. The detail seems unnecessary, even mundane. But, it tells us that God shows up in the world when life is happening. Even if no one rich and powerful notices, God shows up to the broken and hurting, to the poor and outcast, to common, even insignificant, people and brings Good News of a new world order.

God knows this life is hard and the world is hurting. He watched humanity struggle for thousands of years trying to draw us back to Him through kings and prophets. And, finally, He came to us, to live among us, to experience life with all the trials and sufferings and tears, to experience joy and love and laughter. That Good News is the hope of Christmas.

If God took on human flesh and came to dwell among us, if God so loved us He gave His son to live for us, if God is a light that shines in the darkness, then our hope is that there will be an end to brokenness, hurt, pain, illness, oppression and war. There will be a day when we live in harmony and peace. We know we can wait with promise for the day of peace on earth to those He favors.

As we gather in the stable and kneel before the manger singing praise to the new born Christ child, we claim our salvation in this life and in the next. We know that the light will continue to shine in the darkness until the new day dawns and the Lord returns to reign with justice and peace. On that day, the darkness will finally succumb to the light and there will be a new Heaven and a new earth. God will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21: 1 – 4) for the new world order will be fulfilled and Christ will reign forever and ever. Amen.

As we share the bread and wine today, we eat broken bread symbolic of Christ’s broken body knowing that he has experienced the brokenness we experience. We dip our bread in the juice symbolic of His blood shed knowing that he has experienced the death we experience. We remember His birth, His life and death, His resurrection. We claim His grace for the forgiveness of sin and the healing of sins’ wounds. We share the meal in the fellowship of the Christian family bound together by the love of God, the promises of Christ and the unity of the Spirit. Come, eat, drink and remember.

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