24 December 2021

“Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God.” (WR 658)

“Do not be afraid, Mary.”  These are the words that the angel Gabriel comforted Mary with when he appeared to her.  “Do not be afraid.”  At times I have wished that the angel would come to me and tell me the same thing.  It would help my faith in God – our awesome God – a tremendous deal.  I am sure that you could say the same thing.  For Mary was afraid before this appearance.  She was afraid because she had never seen an angel before.  She was afraid because she did not know what to make of it.  But it is important to note that her fear did not end when the angel Gabriel left her.  She became fearful of how Joseph would react.  She may have become fearful of how her family and others would react as well.  For who could trust her?

When God comes to us, fear does not quietly slip out the back door.  Fear is instead embraced.  Fear is learned to live with.  It is learned to live with because we have confidence that there is a God who has our best interests at heart.  How do we know this?  Because God has given us a son that is born for our salvation.  Whoever might trust in him will have eternal life.  God did not have to do this, but he wanted to so that we could be close to him.  God wanted to give us this gift so that we might not be lost by ourselves and our own insatiable desires, and so that we could see Jesus as a friend.

Will Willimon recently wrote a book called Preacher’s Dare: Speaking for God.  He is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and has done some work in building healthy churches.  He notes that “the church is the field hospital where those who, having been wounded by their participation in Christ’s mission, are bandaged up so they can be sent right back into the front lines of the battle” (Christian Century, 8.11.21, 33).  The battle, friends, is to win more territory for God.  The battle is to win more believers, and more who are willing to cast their fears away to God, and trust God enough to go to the field hospital for healing and nurturing.  We do not want to stay at the hospital.  Then we would not do any work for God’s kingdom.  We do not want to stay away from the hospital altogether.  Then we would be letting the world dismay and defeat us.  We know that God is an awesome God because he has wisdom, power, and love.  It is all shown in the decision to offer us an indescribable gift; it is the opportunity to know who God is, to know what God is about, and to be more like him, all through studying the life and ministry that this baby child is going to lead.  Tonight, truly stand in awe over this manger.  It is not just another Christmas.  It is not another Christmas where you don’t feel in the mood.  It may be the very first Christmas where you look at Jesus and truly see the opportunity that God has given you.  It is the opportunity to live with God at your side.  God is with us, Emmanuel.  There is no reason to be afraid.  When you are, your church friends are here to help you deal with that, to process that, and to understand that.  God does not expect it to disappear.  God does not expect your questions or doubt to disappear.  God only wants you to lean on him and seek relationship with him when your faith wavers, and not to fill that void with something else.  This Christmas, and heading into the next year, set your priorities on God first.  Our eyes at last shall see him.  And our baby boy will lead us through this life, and on into the next.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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