Thursday, December 24, 2015
Merry Christmas! The angels tell us tonight, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” Good news…isn’t it time for some good news? I’d like us all to think about the most recent news headlines we’ve heard or read. What first comes to mind? Here’s what I literally found on CNN.com when I looked online: “U.S. troops killed in bomb attack,” “Driver hits 38 pedestrians in Las Vegas,” “New threat shuts more schools,” “Obama challenges media on ISIS.” With a few changes to the details of location and numbers, these are headlines that we unfortunately are hearing week after week – too many bad news headlines, too often. The world seems to be full of bad news these days.
Now, certainly there were good news headlines as well from our own Omaha World Herald: “Huskers win the NCAA women’s volleyball championship,” “Star Wars sets box office record,” “Parents donate to Goodfellows to honor son,” but I’m going to guess that when I asked you to think about what news you’ve heard most recently, the first thing that came to mind was bad news, not good. That’s the kind of news that keeps us up at night – the news that causes us to worry or even to be afraid for our world, for our country, and for our future. Just to make a humorous point, my friend Pastor Jeremy Fuerst recently moved to Everett, Washington to serve a local Lutheran congregation there, and this is how the local newspaper introduced the new pastor in town! (show newspaper image)
It’s easy to focus on the negative that’s happening in our world, and certainly, there’s a lot of it. We’re bombarded with reminders that our world is not whole and not at peace, so much so that when we sing “Peace to all the earth,” it’s hard to believe it, right? Tonight we loudly and joyfully sing, “Jesus Christ is born today! Now ye hear of endless bliss: Jesus Christ was born for this!” and “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Do we mean it? Can we believe it? How does this good news of Jesus’ birth speak to the fears and hopes that we have tonight?
On that first Christmas night in Bethlehem those who were gathered around the manger had good news, the BEST news ever, in fact, staring them right in the face, and yet they were afraid. They had trouble trusting this child, Christ Jesus would change the world. First of all, who doesn’t love the good news of a baby’s birth – any baby’s birth?! But we know Mary and Joseph were afraid – Mary, an unwed teenager and Joseph her anxious betrothed who is hoping he made the right decision to take Mary as his wife anyway and raise this child who is not his own. The young couple out of fear of the government and its harsh tax system goes to Bethlehem, only to discover there is no place for them. Mary gives birth in a barn, without her cousin Elizabeth’s protection, without a midwife to assist her. These first-time parents go through the birthing process alone, surrounded by barn animals, straw and dirt. No sanitized bassinet but an animal feeding trough for this newborn baby Jesus – thank God they didn’t know about compromised immune systems: that would’ve been one more thing to add the fears of these new parents.
And the shepherds’ first reaction to the angels is not joy, but fear as well. They are terrified, Luke tells us. But the angel gives us a message for us all to heed this Christmas: “Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” Good news is staring at Mary, at Joseph, at the shepherds, right in the face, and for a moment, they forget to notice it. Their fears consume them. The angel’s words give them a new focus for a bright future, regardless of the dangers and risks this child might also bring: today in the city of Bethlehem a savior is born. The angel’s message is for us, too, tonight: good news of great joy for us, for those people out there wherever they are…in a refugee camp, in a house by themselves as they grieve the loss of loved ones, in Bethlehem tonight as war between Palestinians and Israelis continues. For teachers, for students, for police officers and soldiers and presidents and presidential candidates, for us all: Christ the Savior is born!
Here is the baby Jesus’ challenge to us tonight: can we hear the good news louder than all the bad news that surrounds us? Can we trust and believe that goodness is stronger than evil, love more powerful than death, and that God’s love for us poured out for us in Jesus Christ is truly for us and for the world? How do we help make the words we sing and the good news we hear about and read about every Christmas ring true for a world still mired in fear, hopelessness, and doubt?
I don’t have all the answers for us tonight, other than my fierce belief that this is why Jesus makes a difference, and why our world so desperately needs Jesus. The world needs to hear some good news, and even just a little good news this Christmas can go a long way. We can start small with words like, “I’m praying for you.” “I’m thinking about you this first Christmas without your loved one.” We can speak with our actions: Christmas cookies to your neighbors, Project Angel tree gifts for families who don’t have much, a local food pantry donation. Or we can speak even more boldly: inviting someone without family to church and then to your home for Christmas dinner, sponsoring a refugee family here in Omaha through Lutheran Family Services, giving generously to ELCA World Hunger, serving a meal at a local shelter. We can point people to the good news of Jesus Christ for people bogged down by fear.
Let’s not forget, Jesus’ good news is for us to share with others, but it is for us, too. The angels remind the shepherds to look, to GO and SEE the good news of Jesus’ birth. We, too, can look for signs that Christ is still God with us, Immanuel, among us. Tonight gives us the opportunity to take such a pause to notice God’s signs for us that Jesus still lives and walks among us. Signs of hope, signs of life, signs of good defeating evil…all of these things are God’s reminder to us that he is our Lord and Savior, with us eternally! Amen.