Sermon for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2018 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20

But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—

I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people… (Luke 2:10)

Several years ago, my husband Tim wrote his first book entitled Head Trash: Cleaning Out the Junk that Stands Between You and Success. Head trash is those thought patterns or emotional tendencies that drive your interactions and behavior with others, things like arrogance, control, paranoia, and guilt. When Tim and his partner wrote this book, the first characteristic they included was fear because, based on their own instincts and anecdotal evidence, fear was a huge driver of behavior for the managers and leaders they coached and advised. Part of the Head Trash program is an online index which you can take for free that identifies your head trash.  You can find it at headtrash911.com. Interestingly, their instincts proved true based on the Head Trash index: for women as well as men, the number one form of head trash is fear.

In the workplace, this can lead to paralysis in decision-making and an unwillingness to have the difficult conversations we often need to have in our work relationships as well as our personal ones. Not making a decision because of fear is actually making a decision not to act, and the consequences can be damaging, even if not intentional. And we all know that avoiding that difficult conversation with someone only allows the conflict to fester and grow worse. So, in the workplace, fear as a primary driver of behavior can be a big problem.

In our everyday lives, fear can cause paralysis in our actions and an unwillingness to face conflict, but it can also have more insidious effects. It can shrink our personal universe. If we are afraid, we insulate and isolate; we react in irrational ways to those who somehow breach this personal space; we surround ourselves with other fear-based people in an ever-escalating spiral of reinforcing fear. The cycle can be deadly. We have only to look around us to see this happening as there is now, in private hands, at least one gun for every man, woman, and child in this country and we build walls instead of bridges and incarcerate an inexcusable number of people in the name of law and order.

Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.

The first words out of the mouth of the angel of the Lord in the second chapter of Luke are “do not be afraid,” because this angel knows that this is exactly the response she’s going to get. 

The angels and messengers of God know that their appearance will be met with fear, but still they say, “do not be afraid,” and it’s not as if we can just say, “I won’t be afraid, I won’t be afraid, I won’t be afraid.” That’s just not how we are wired. So, even in knowing that their very presence would spark fear, what these angels seem to mean is that, even if you areafraid, trust that God has this well in hand. It’s not just up to youto do this.

Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.

The shepherds in our story needed to hear these words for many reasons. They were the outcasts – dirty, smelly, homeless, tending sheep in the fields all night, unwelcome in polite society. If an angel of the Lord was coming to them, this could notbe a good thing. They had every reason to feel paralyzed, to put their heads down, blame it on the flask one had tucked in his cloak, and go back to tending their sheep. 

But what did they do?

Well, according to Luke, they did not debate or confer or hem and haw about this. No, they said to each other, “Hey, let’s go check this out!” And off they went. And they found everything just as the angel had told them they would. And in not allowing fear to petrify them into inaction or spur them into rejection and fear of this unknown thing, they became the first evangelists: 

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 

and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:17-18)

Yes, our world can be a very scary place, but if we allow the fear to paralyze us, who will proclaim the Good News? Who will go and tell what we have seen and heard on this Christmas Eve?

++++++++++++++++++++

One of my favorite parts of the run-up to Christmas is the opportunity to watch all of my favorite Christmas specials. Now, I know I could probably stream them any time I wanted to, but I fiercely hang onto an old-school delight in checking the TV schedule and carving out time to tune in. I imagine that I’m not the only one who has at the top of the Christmas viewing list A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The characters that Charles Schulz created in his comic strip in 1950 reflect the archetypal characters that inhabit every childhood: the loveable but unlucky Charlie Brown; the wise, security-blanket clutching Linus; the assertive, feminist-before-her-time Lucy van Pelt; Snoopy, the incorrigible beagle, and all the rest. By the time the Christmas special aired in 1965, each of the characters was deeply ingrained in the American psyche.

So it came as no surprise that it was Linus, Charlie Brown’s philosophical sidekick, who would be the one to explain what Christmas was all about. I’m sure you all remember how it unfolds:

Charlie Brown, in frustration at the devil-may-care antics of his Christmas pageant cast, cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

And there stands Linus to tell him that of course he does.

He strides out on stage, trusty security blanket dragging the ground behind him, says to the crew, “Lights, please,” and launches into the King James’ Version of the beginning of Luke’s infancy narrative.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (Luke 2:8-10)

And if you look carefully, you will notice that when Linus utters the words, “Fear not,” he drops to the floor the blanket that he was holding in his left hand.

Fear not. I have good news

Drop that security blanket. Do not be afraid.        

Do not be afraid of the uncertainty of what is coming next for you, this is good news.

Do not be afraid of the anger and anxiety and violence and pain of this world, this is good news.

Do not be afraid, because “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).      

That “do not be afraid” echoes down through the centuries to this very night. For unto usis born a savior which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).

The last thing this world needs is more fear-based people. Proclaiming Good News in the face of all evidence to the contrary is probably not going to win you a lot of friends and allies. Do it anyway. Cast your caution to the wind. Don’t be trapped by fear or overwhelmed by the rising crescendo of harshness and exclusion that rages about us. Tell that Good News. Shout to the rooftops that God came into the world as one of us to show us the way back to God, because we cannot by our own power reconcile ourselves and all of creation. We are too broken and too sinful, and that is why Jesus was born into this world, to tell us that all of that is forgiven. Proclaim a message that God did this out of lovefor us. Because God so loved the world that God came.

As the late Madeline L’Engle put it so beautifully:

We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.[1]

And even if you are afraid, in the words of another fierce woman, Maggie Kuhn, “Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind — even if your voice shakes.”[2]

Take your shakyvoice out into the streets and byways and highways of this world.

Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.

Merry Christmas to you all.


[1]Madeline L’Engle, “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.” (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2015).

[2]http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/maggie_kuhn.htm

ASEPSermon for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2018 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas