Sunday, December 24, 2017

"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.

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 2017 has been a difficult 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 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 anxiety and negativity; lifting it into the joy, love, compassion, forgiveness and healing of Jesus. My friends, we have been created for hope. Do not be afraid.

In his homily for Midnight Mass tonight Pope Francis spoke of hope. He said, “The faith we proclaim tonight makes us see God present in all those situations where we think he is absent. He is present in the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognizable, who walks through our cities and our neighborhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our doors. Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity that does not grow accustomed to injustice, as if it were something natural, but that has the courage to make itself a land of hospitality. In this Child, God invites us to be messengers of hope, to become sentinels for all those bowed down by the despair born of encountering so many closed doors. In this child, God makes us agents of his hospitality. Moved by the joy of the gift, little Child of Bethlehem, we ask that your crying may shake us from our indifference and open our eyes to those who are suffering. May your revolutionary tenderness persuade us to feel our call to be agents of the hope and tenderness of our people.”

My friends, we were created for hope. Let this Christmas child make us the agents of hospitality and sentinels of hope our world so desperately needs.

Merry Christmas and please join me again: Silent Night…

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