Christmas is a life choice between love and fear.
If you read the various stories of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels, overcoming fear plays such a prominent role.
When the angel appeared to Mary in Luke’s Gospel to announce that she would give birth, the first thing the angel said was: “Do not be afraid!” When the choirs of angels appear to the shepherds in the fields to announce to them the birth of the Messiah, the first thing that the angels say is: “Fear not!”
In Matthew’s Gospel, when the angel appears to Joseph, the angel tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.
Fear was a part of that first Christmas. Fear is a part of everyone’s life. To really live, we have to face down our fears.
One of my absolutely favorite true stories about the power of fear is the story of the lady who filled her car with her groceries. The bags were all packed in the seat behind her.
When the lady got into her car to drive home, she heard a loud pop! “I’ve been shot!” she said. She reached behind her head and felt her brains dripping down her neck. She passed out.
She was awakened shortly by a man knocking on her car window. “Are you okay?” he asked. She responded: “No, I’ve been shot. Call the police!”
When the police arrived, they examined her and the car carefully. Finally, an officer said to her: “Ma’am, you haven’t been shot! The popping sound you heard was not a gun, but your Pillsbury Dough can exploding behind you. What you thought were your brains dripping was simply the dough pouring down your neck!”
Ultimately, life is a choice between love and fear. Fear keeps us in prisons of anxiety and guilt and shame and blame. Love frees us for peace and pardon and joy and forgiveness. Love is God’s gift. Fear comes from the dark side. Fear reminds us that we are fragile and one day will die. Love reminds us that we are made in God’s image and likeness and will live forever. Fear leads us to blame ourselves and blame others, leads us to acts of terror and acts of war. Love leads us to understand ourselves and understand others, and to acts of compassion and acts of healing.
Christmas is about the God who entered history to cast out fear and bring in love.
So I want to close with a poem that I wrote for my first Christmas sermon as a priest, and also used on my first Christmas radio show 35 years ago. I dared to imagine Christmas from God’s point of view:
“I hear the world groaning in such terrible pain.
I see the tears of the innocent run dry.
I watch man shackled by sin’s selfish reign
As he turns anguished eyes to the sky.
What can I do for these people I made?
How can I touch and dry up their tears?
Perhaps I can brighten life’s darkening shade
By entering history for a period of years.
But the terrible truth, so terrible, so true,
Is that many will not care that I came.
A manger, a cross, a grave are my due.
Who will notice but the poor and the lame?
Why do I love my people so?
Why enter their hate-filled streams?
Why do I want my people to know
That God cherishes their hopes and their dreams?
When life’s dawn broke that first perfect day.
Man’s goodness and greatness stood free
Now new life must be breathed onto a darkened way
And that can only be done by me.
So I know I will go into the world’s tangled night.
I will go because I can’t stay away.
If I touch but one person with love’s tender might
Then the night will be conquered by day.”
And so it came to pass that there were shepherds in the field. There was a baby in a manger. God was with his people.