Friday, December 23, 2016

Do not be afraid!


Join me in a little sing-a-long: “Silent night, holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace. ” Is there any hymn that captures the quiet, the holiness, the hopes and the peace of Christmas than Silent Night? Just singing that song fills me with the peace of Christmas – and I hope you too.

There is a wonderful Christmas edition of the Family Circus comic that I always think of this time of year. In it, the young girl, Dolly, shares the story of Christmas with her two young brothers. Here’s how she told it, “Mary and Joseph were camping out under a star in the East…It was a Silent Night in Bethlehem until the angels began to sing…then Santa brought Baby Jesus in his sleigh and laid Him in a manger… Chestnuts were roasting by an open fire and not a creature was stirring…so the Grinch stole some swaddling clothes from Scrooge – who was one of the three wise men riding on eight tiny reindeer.” Dolly then scolds her brother, “Pay attention, Jeffy, or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!” Although Dolly got the details a bit mixed up, she’s right – pay attention or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!

I am such a big fan of all the traditions that surround this time of year. I particularly remember as a child all of the Christmas TV specials. During that time from Thanksgiving to Christmas we were so excited when any of them would come on. After dinner, we would hurriedly take our bath, put on our PJs and sit in front of the TV to watch, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It wouldn’t be Christmastime without watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and my all-time favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I recently saw something online that made the message of A Charlie Brown Christmas even more profound. At the heart of A Charlie Brown Christmas is the scene were young Linus reminds every one of the true meaning of Christmas as he recites the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. It is the same passage we just heard proclaimed tonight. “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.’”

But, for as many times as I have seen that special, there was one small but important detail that I had never noticed before until now. Charlie Brown is best known for his striped shirt, and Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all are always trying to separate Linus from his blanket. And they always fail. Even though his security blanket is a source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he refuses to give it up. It makes him feel safe and secure.

Until this moment. As Linus is sharing the story of Christ’s birth, he drops his blanket. In that climactic scene when Linus shares what Christmas is all about, he drops his security blanket, and most telling is the specific moment he drops it: when he utters the words, "fear not" or in our translation “Do not be afraid.”

This cannot be a coincidence or something unintentional. It seems instead that Peanuts creator Charles Schultz was telling us something so simple, so important, so brilliant. The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears. The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves. The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and instead to trust and cling to Jesus.

We all know that 2016 has been a fairly terrible year for our nation, for our world. So much of the struggle of this last year has been based on fear. Fear of the other, fear of the immigrant, fear of the refugee, fear of the poor and the homeless and the addict. Fear of war, fear of terror. Fear seemingly everywhere. We may be among those who find ourselves grasping at something – anything – that offers a sense of security, whatever that might mean.
But, in the midst of it all, Jesus comes once again to remind us of something profound and deeply meaningful – “Do not be afraid…For today a savior has been born for you.” My friends, we are reminded so especially today of this eternal truth: We were not created for fear. We were created for hope. We are the “light of the world”. We are the “salt of the earth”. We are called to be the leaven in our society, lifting the world out of its fear and anger and negativity into the joy, love, compassion, forgiveness and healing of Jesus. We have been created for hope. Do not be afraid.

A local church was conducting a Christmas pageant one year. The grand finale came as a class of six-year-old’s rose to sing the song, "Christmas Love." As they sang, the children in the front row held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. As each letter was presented, the children would sing "C is for Christmas," or "H is for Happy," and so on, until each child holding up their portion had presented the message "Christmas Love." Everything was going smoothly, until everyone noticed a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding the letter "M" upside down - totally unaware her letter appeared as a "W".

The audience lightly chuckled at the little girl’s mistake. She had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her "W". Although the teachers tried to quiet the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised. And when it was, a hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. In that instant, they understood the true message of that day, and that perhaps God had a plan in the little girl’s “W”. For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear: "CHRIST WAS LOVE”. And, I believe, He still is.

My friends, “Do not be afraid”. Instead be the light, be the salt, be the leaven, be the hope and love that Christ created you to be. And then our world will be a better place.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace. Let's sing again, Silent Night…

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