Christmas Day (C)
Matthew 1:18-25
December 25, 2018

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I want to tell you something about myself, something you may not know about and that I hope won’t change your opinion of me too much. Ready? I’m terrified of sharks. I don’t mean a little scared, I mean I haven’t taken a bath since I saw Jaws, and you can forget about getting me into the ocean. My only consolation is that I know that sharks don’t live on land and that fear is natural for everybody. Our fears run from the darkness to moths and from heights to clowns. Some are paralyzed by their fears, while others, like military personnel who are far from home this Christmas Day, face their fears head on. I don’t know where you all fall on the spectrum of fear, but as we celebrate this glorious Christmas Day, listen to the words of the angels and know you don’t have to be afraid.

When Adam and Eve experienced fear for the first time it was such a traumatizing emotion they tried to hide from God. Adam says, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Adam and Eve were instantly afraid upon their sinning – afraid of God, afraid of the consequences of their sin, afraid of the future. The feeling of being afraid becomes a running story throughout history and especially in the Bible. Whenever people feel out of control or threatened fear rears its ugly head. The Egyptians, the Philistines, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians each terrified the Israelites at one point or another in their history. The widow that Elisha saved was afraid of death. The centurion came to Jesus because he was afraid of losing his daughter. Sometimes fears were brought to life while other times the threats came to nothing because God intervened.

One purpose of the Bible is to tell the story of God’s people, and that includes you. So, the fear that Adam and Eve felt has come down to you through all the generations before you. You may not be afraid of sharks, but what about your enemies? Sickness and dying. Death. What about the future? Your children’s future? Your grandchildren’s future? What about the unknowns, the fear of not knowing what could happen any day of the week? You want to be brave, and some of you are, but others of you might not be. That’s not a weakness, it’s the sin that has corrupted everything, including our emotions.

Adam and Eve hid from God because their sin made them afraid of Him, and they should’ve been. God is perfectly holy, He can’t put up with sin of any type, and He certainly can’t tolerate it in His presence. So Adam and Eve were just the first to be afraid of God. Moses and the Israelites were. When Gideon realized he had been speaking to God he cried, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” When Peter first met Jesus he said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And then there’s Isaiah standing in heaven crying, “Woe is me! For I am lost…for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” These men realized that because God is perfectly holy, they’re doomed. God could, maybe even should, strike them dead because of their sin. It’s only by His mercy that He’s sparing their lives.

If it wasn’t for God’s mercy, none of us could stand before Him either. There’s a very good reason we start our worship by confessing our sins! We’re sinful and yet we’re coming here praying and seeking His forgiveness for all our sins. We don’t have anything good to offer to Him. Our good works are like filthy rags when compared to His holiness. He is holy and good and perfect, and we are not. He should punish us, right? When bad things happen to you or a loved one, do you sometimes wonder if God think that’s exactly what He’s doing, punishing you? Is that what God wants though? Does He want you to be afraid of Him?

A common theme throughout the Christmas story is fear, or rather, the opposite of fear, bravery. Gabriel told Zechariah and Mary not be afraid. The angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. The angel told the shepherds to not be afraid because they had good news of great joy that would be for all people. All of them had their fears erased by God who assured them that He was in control and that they didn’t need to be afraid of Him or His plans. God knew what He was doing and He was doing it all for their benefit, for the benefit of all people.

Did you know that God never says, “Don’t be afraid” without giving the reason why? “Gideon, peace be to you. Do not fear, you shall not die.” “Isaiah, don’t fear, this has atoned for your sins.” “Mary, don’t be afraid, you’ve found favor with God.” “Zechariah, don’t be afraid, God has heard your prayer.” “Joseph, don’t be afraid because Mary is bearing the One who will save all people from their sin.” They didn’t have to be afraid because God was coming to earth to save His people, and not just Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the Israelites, or the disciples, but all of you! “People here today, fear not, for God has given you His Son!”

What can your enemies do to you? Nothing! “Fear not! For I am with you; be not dismayed because I am your God.” What can sickness, disease or injury do to you? Nothing! God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you.” What can the future do to you? Nothing! Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid, for you are my children.” Are you afraid of God’s anger over your sins? Don’t be! Jesus says, “Fear not…for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” What can sin do to you? Nothing really. It may take your life, it may make your life hard and full of sorrow, but you don’t need to fear it. For you have peace with God through the Son about whom the angels sang. You have peace with God because God has given you His Son.

The angel told Joseph, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Joseph didn’t know what that meant, but he believed it. Mary didn’t know how Jesus would save the world, but she believed it. The shepherds didn’t know how a baby could bring peace on earth, but the raced to see Him. They didn’t know about the cross, but you do. They believed the angels without seeing the end. You’ve seen the end and so you know that your sins are forgiven. You know there’s nothing to be afraid of.

You have nothing to fear because Jesus swallowed His fear and did everything you couldn’t do. Now you can look forward to the day that fear comes to a screeching halt. You can look forward to the day when cancer has no power over you and when dying is no longer something to fear. You can look forward to a place free of fear, sadness, and worry. Jesus who is our Savior is also our God who has power over all things. You may struggle with your fear, but as Moses told the Israelites before he died, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” This is the word of the Lord, His promises made true in Jesus Christ who’s born this day for you.

In the book of Revelation, Saint John the Apostle sees Jesus in heaven in all His power and glory, and as you can imagine John’s scared out of his mind. He’s so scared he falls to the ground like he was dead. But then he feels a hand on him and Jesus says to him, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.” Great words for you! Don’t be afraid! Instead, hear the word of God, and like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, find peace and trust in the babe of Bethlehem who is our crucified and risen Savior and who is our redeemer and protector. Don’t be afraid, for He is your God in the flesh for you.

Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen