Homily for Christmas Eve, Year C, 2009
Thursday, December 24th, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 2:1-20
“Fear not, for behold I bring good news of great joy!”
Into a world gripped with fear, a tiny babe was born. Over the past several hundred years, Judea had been a place that had been passed from foreign power to foreign power; it had known revolution upon revolution; and had known unjust ruler upon unjust ruler. There was prosperity for some and poverty for many. And just like today, amongst the names of the long-forgotten people of that day, there were many broken lives and broken hearts.
Broken lives and hearts – so many problems plague this age (and every age), but never is something so tragic as a broken life or broken heart. Some of you will have seen a full-page advertisement in the Toronto Star last week from our Archbishop, Colin Johnson. The headline read, “Does Jesus really matter anymore? Christmas is about shopping, presents, family and feasting, right?” He then goes on to remind us that our time is not so different from the time that Jesus was born into, “we suffer from worries and concerns, broken relationships, wars and famines. The very things that kept our ancestors awake all those years ago keep us awake still.”
It seems to me that fear is at the heart of all those things that keep us awake. Fear moves us to destructive action and paralyzes us from righteous, compassionate action. Fear tricks us into believing that we can do nothing to change the course of poverty, loneliness, economic injustice, and ecological degradation. Fear tells us that broken hearts are not to be mended. Fear also tricks us into thinking that the only way to solve the problems of the age is by engaging brute force, or conversely, by apathetically giving into it. Fear tricks us into thinking that there is no hope for the world or the people in it.
Fear drove a young unwed couple to journey the long distance from their home in Nazareth to the father’s ancestral home in Bethlehem for a taxation census. The unbreakable power of the Roman Empire demanded a head count for all to be taxed, and one can only imagine the fate of those chose not to obey the imperial edict. A young couple, afraid to show themselves in public for fear of the shame of the unplanned pregnancy, afraid to journey a dangerous road alone, afraid of what such a trip might do to the unborn child, pressed forward. Afraid that they would find no place to birth their child they scrambled about until a stable was found – no place for a baby to be born.
Yes, fear may have driven them, but God found them where they were, came to them and was birthed before their very eyes. He came to them as a tiny, vulnerable child, and turned their fear into joy and their angst into fulfillment. The stable was no longer a stable but the temple of God.
To this temple came poor shepherds, and I am sure, countless others (both rich and poor) who had eyes to see in that tiny child the one who would deliver them; who had ears to hear in his infant cries the voice of the one who would offer words of compassion and justice for all people. Why did the shepherds come to the child and his parents in this lowly place? Because in their own poverty and isolation they heard an angel loudly proclaim, “Fear not.” They, who were not worthy to be counted in the census, those shepherds keeping their watch, had courage stirred within them to leave their only source of income and well-being, and seek out a pearl of greater price, the newborn king! The song of joy had dispersed their fear.
The shepherds heard those great glad tidings and rushed, not with fear but with joy, expectation, and hope from their fields to that stable in Bethlehem, that unlikely temple, to see with their own eyes the great thing that God had done.
And what was that great thing. Had the Roman Empire fallen? No, Augustus was still Caesar. Did that young family find a manor house to live in? No, the child was still born in a stable. Did midwives and physicians show up to help in the birth? No, the woman gave birth with only her husband as a birth companion. These things had not changed, and yet, everything had changed, because the fear that had gripped their world was broken.
We draw nigh tonight like shepherds who have left our flocks. We draw nigh to see, to witness, to believe in the great thing that God has done. We have left our lives behind for a moment, even if just for a moment, to take time from presents, from shopping, from our families and from our feasting, to witness once again for ourselves the birth in time of the timeless Son of God. We draw nigh, to remember once again that though empires may rise and fall, though economies prosper and collapse, though jobs come and jobs go, though children are born and loved ones die, though the tides rise and fall, we are not afraid. We gather here to proclaim that fear is not our master, but rather the transforming love of the gentle babe who was born to a frightened young couple. We gather here to say that amidst the angst of the age, we shall not be overcome or sorrow as a people without hope but rather rejoice with that rag-tag group of shepherds that Christ is born.
Whether it be Bethlehem of Judea or Thornhill of Ontario, people are people, pain is pain, brokenness is brokenness, and fear is fear. But whether it be Bethlehem of Judea or Thornhill of Ontario, Jesus is the Christ and he has broken through the darkness of our pain and fear.
To a world that is hurting, he comes. To the fear that threatens to displace us, angels shout, “Fear not! Behold, I bring you good news of great joy!” Fear not, because a child is born who changes things.
He changes minds.
He changes hearts.
He changes people.
He turns the valley of the shadow of death into the way of life.
He has shone his light into the darkest places of our lives and welcomed us to his heart and cradles us, as his most holy mother cradled him those years ago. What greater joy can we know, and what better hope can we have, that the fear of the ages is dispersed by his ever-present light? Thus, I bid you return to your fields, to your flocks with this good news of great joy, having witnessed what the Lord has done, and like those shepherds of old, tell all about what you have seen and heard, as it has been told to you.
c.2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves