Reading this beautiful gospel once again, I found myself marvelling at its power. What is it about Luke’s telling of the nativity that makes it so enduring, and endearing? Year after year, century after century, whether on television or in church, we’re drawn to this story, and moved by it again and again. It is, for so many of us, “THE” Christmas story.
Part of it is the cast of characters Luke assembles. Luke was the only evangelist who was not Jewish, and his gospel is beautifully inclusive. He is the evangelist for the outsider and the outcast – and so in this birth narrative you have EVERYONE. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, even Caesar is mentioned. The only ones who don’t appear are the wise men, but they’ll pop up on their own holiday, at Epiphany, coming in January. In this narrative, you really do see the world spread before us. Everyone is welcome at the stable.
But beyond the setting, and the sentiment, there is a truth here that strikes at the heart of every believing Christian – that truth that defines Christmas.
It is there, in the middle of the gospel, in the very first words that are spoken by the angel Gabriel to Mary.
“Do not be afraid.”
And then it gets even better.
“Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
“A saviour has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”
These are the words we have been longing for. With this moment, the course of human history changes forever. God has become one of us. The saviour’s very name proclaims the incredible truth that no one ever thought possible: “Emmanuel.” God is with us. It is a stunning thought, almost overwhelming.
And yet we like Mary are told: “Do not be afraid.”
Across two thousand years, those words reach out to us in joy and hope and consolation. No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter what your circumstances, this what matters:
“Do not be afraid.”
To those who are bereaved, To those who struggle with illness and pain, To those with a terminal diagnoses, To those who are refuges in this world, to the displaced, unloved and lost To the father without a job, To those in abusive situations or the children pulled apart by divorce or separation:
The message is still the same:
“Do not be afraid.”
To all those who feel that maybe God has forgotten you. To those who feel, as Mother Teresa did, abandoned to the dark night:
Do not be afraid.
Because even in this darkest of nights, there is light. A saviour has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. Here is our hope.
He didn’t come in grandeur or majesty, to intimidate us. He came as the most helpless and dependent creature of all: a baby, in a manger, in Bethlehem. He loves us so much, God came to us as someone we could not help but love.
So, do not be afraid!
Of course it is relatively easy for us in the West – we have freedom of speech and are free to worship who and what we like. We are, not yet, persecuted for our faith. So many of our Christian brothers and sisters are not afraid, and bear witness to this astonishing fact that the Incarnation continues and that Christ is still coming to us to our situations.
The most difficult thing of all is for us to take this wonderful message of hope and redemption to those who need to hear and experience the love of God.
Yes: on this night, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
A saviour has been born. And he continues to be born in our hearts, if only we will allow it to happen.
That, is the great power of Christmas, the reason why year after year that beautiful passage from Luke resonates. Christmas is about redemption, yes. But it is also about God’s overpowering love for us – His reassurance to a troubled, frightened, war-torn world that He is with us, through everything.
He dreams with us.
He struggles with us.
He grieves with us.
And: He hopes with us.
Remember his name. Emmanuel. God is with us.
So do not be afraid.
That’s what Christmas is all about – Spread the glad tidings
May you all have a joyous, peaceful Christ-filled Christmas.