Great Joy! (aka, Do not be afraid!)
Do not be afraid. That is the most often used phrase in the bible. Fear not! It’s what angels say every time they come to tell someone what God is up to. It’s what God tells the prophets, and tells the prophets to tell the people; it’s what Jesus says to his disciples, Don’t be afraid!
I suspect it’s the thing most often said when heaven meets earth because here on earth, it’s the thing we most need to hear.
From a human vantage point, there is a lot to fear—a lot that feels big, and scary. The world feels shaky and distressing right now. Globally. Politically. Socially. Economically. Geo-thermally. And that doesn’t even begin to touch the anxiety about what happens inside our own bodies, minds, hearts or homes. Everywhere you look, it seems, there is something we could be afraid of.
And if we wanted to give in to the fear, it’s easy to do - it’s right here, tapping us on the shoulder, ready to whisper an ominous “boo” in our faces; and right now there are plenty of folks letting it in the door, pulling out a chair for it at the table, handing it the mic.
And yet, whenever God breaks in, whenever the story of God is told in human language, the very first, and most frequent, words are, Do not be afraid!
We gather here tonight to hear again the story of God with us. And it’s so human and haphazard, so messy and joyful, so irrational and unreasonable, it doesn’t seem like it would be a effective weapon against big, scary fear at all.
And yet, it turns out that this is the most formidable force of all. It turns out that hope, love and light joyfully and stubbornly refuse to let the darkness prevail. God sees our scary darkness and raises us a baby, a poor, homeless, baby, born in an awkward pit stop on the road, to rookie parents in an ominous political time. From a human point of view, this is a ridiculously vulnerable and doubtful way to take on death and fear. And yet, this is how God puts his money where his mouth is on the whole Do not be afraid thing. God comes. As one of us – right into the mess of it. Right into the darkness. The fear. The shakiness and unknown. Not to rescue us out, but to share this life with us.
God says, I will go there with you. I will bear it for you. You are not alone. Fear and darkness will not triumph. Love is the deepest reality and the final word. And here I am in person to bring it into being.
Do not be afraid! The angel tells a random bunch of baffled, ordinary shepherds. For see? I am bringing you good news of great joy! For all the people! God is with us! God is right here!
This week has been hard for me. The sadness, and the fear, have felt close by. But there is something we’ve learned here together, and we keep on learning it, and at this point, I would bet everything I have and my very life on it, and it’s this:
When we stop, God meets us.
God is already here. Waiting for us to arrive in our own lives.
To pause the CNN stream with the reporter’s mouth wide open, to silence the ring and shut off the computer. To look up at the life you are in right now, the people you love right now. To take a deep breath into your body and feel it reach all the way inside, and feel the whole entire exhale too.
God is here right now. That is never not true.
And yesterday, right when I needed to hear it most, someone said to me:
You know what? When you look closer at fear, it diminishes. And when you look closer at hope, it increases!
I want to look at closer at hope. I want us to watch for hope and dwell in love and let gratitude be where we make our home. I want joy to define us- irrepressible, in the midst of, nevertheless joy. I want us to help each other remember. To tell each other the truth.
So, sisters and brothers, here is the truth:
Horrible things happen. There is more evil and pain and suffering than we can humanly bear. And God sees and holds it all. More than we ever could.
But there is also more love and peace and joy than we can even begin to fathom. And it’s everywhere. All the time. Even in the darkness and the suffering. It’s the fabric of reality, and the future toward which this whole thing is heading –the light has come, it’s permeating the whole world.
God is with us. This is the most true thing of all.
And despite having wireless, instant access to every piece of information, news story, and competing opinion about every troubling thing happening everywhere in any moment, as a human, mortal person, we are not supposed to bear the weight of all the hard and heavy things in all the world.
We are each called to live fully and joyfully this one, precious, life we’ve been given, to live in the light and let the light live through us.
Because the promise of Christmas is that God has come. In the flesh. God is here right now. God’s light is breaking in, shining through, every place on earth, through ordinary people joining their simple, vulnerable, messy lives with the love of God-with-us, love that never stops coming in spite of, and into, everything.
And we can actually see the God who came to be human alongside us, when we are human alongside each other. We meet the Jesus who shares this life with us, when we share life with each other. When we carry each other’s sorrow and welcome each other’s joy, we encounter God with us, Jesus Christ, here, actually, tangibly, right now.
And so in simple, vulnerable, messy, and ordinary ways – paradoxically powerful ways like tears and laughter, hugs and arguments, listening, learning, and loving, grieving and giving, we are joyfully, defiantly, living toward the future when all fear will fade away and only love will remain.
The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.
We are some of those people, you guys. That’s us.
So, beloved ones, Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news of great joy! For all the people! God is with us! God is right here!
Let us rejoice!