Christmas at Luke’s House

by | Dec 30, 2021

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Meg Peery McLaughlin
Christmas at Luke’s House
December 24, 2021
Luke 2: 1-20

As this church has been inching toward the manger,
week by week this Advent,
we have been taking a tour of each of the 4 gospel homes.
We started with Mark who doesn’t even talk about the baby at all,
then John who is insistent on the light,
which is why we will end this service holding onto one because for John,
Jesus is the light of the world,
last week we were with Matthew, and if you’ve come here slightly stressed about family dynamics in your house, Matthew’s gospel is one to make you take a deep breath, Jesus’ family tree puts the fun in dysfunctional.
Tonight, we come to Luke’s telling.
If you’ve ever seen a Charlie Brown Christmas,
you may remember that it’s this version of the story that Linus tells
when Charlie Brown, after a disastrous night, yells in exasperation:
isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about??!!

Well here is what Luke says it is about dear friends.

As we prepare to hear the story,
will you pray with me? (prayer of illumination/Luke 2)

 

Nearly 2 years ago, in the 3rd week of March,
while all of us were facing an unknown tomorrow,
when Jarrett and I had been your pastors for only a hot second,
and when, up to that point,
the only thing I’d recorded on my iPhone were videos of my kids,
Jarrett and I sat on those steps right there
and propped my phone up on a music stand,
and we sang you a song, a simple John Bell piece called Don’t Be Afraid.

It was probably off key, but we sang anyway
because we all needed something, someone to hold onto in that fear,
or perhaps something or someone to hold onto us.

That song became a staple around these parts in the early part of the pandemic.
It was easy enough to learn and I heard tell
of some of you signing it at night to fall asleep.

Right before the pandemic, Meg Powell—a member here—
her mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,
and that being a mean type of cancer—we learned the end was coming fast.
(And can we also say that all cancer is mean?)
Meg’s daughter, Cate, then a third grader, couldn’t travel to Statesville
because of the lockdown, so Cate sang that song though the phone.
Don’t be afraid are the words her grandmother heard her sing as she was dying.

I didn’t think about it at the time,
since it was Spring and the forsythia was out,
but we were singing a Christmas song, an angels song.

Because Don’t Be Afraid, that’s what angels always say.

(song—Don’t be afraid, my love is stronger than your fear. Don’t be afraid, for I have promised to be always near.)

Don’t be afraid.
That’s what the angels always say.

The Angel Gabriel says it to Mary:
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
Mary is terrified—who wouldn’t be?—but the angel says to her,
“Don’t be afraid, Mary …you’re going to have a baby, and you will name him Jesus.”

And to Joseph, upon discovering his fiancé is pregnant
and knowing he is not the father, the angel says: “Don’t be afraid, Joseph.
Take Mary as your wife … the child within her is God’s idea,
conceived of the Holy Spirit.”

A whole host of angels shine down on those keeping watch over their flock by night, and to these shepherds scratching out an existence in the cold: an angel says:
“Do not be afraid; for see I bring you good tidings of great joy for all the people.”

I have a friend named Elizabeth,
her boy is grown now, but back when he was little,
he’d play with his Fischer Price Nativity set while doing voices for all the characters:
the sheep says BAA
the cow says MOO
the angel says DO NOT BE AFRAID.

A couple of weeks ago, we had an amazing service of lessons and carols;
our choirs helped us bring the story of God’s saving love to life. The Bible readings spanned the whole arc of scripture, beginning with Genesis.

Hadley started, reading the story of Adam & Eve
–eating the apple and realizing they are naked and hiding from God.
A few nights later, Zanna, one of my 7 year old twins, asked me
“Mom, why did Pastor Hadley say those people were naked?
That was really inappropriate to talk about in church.”

Why do these conversations always happen at bedtime?

Trying to maintain a healthy love for bodies,
and trying to maintain the truth that we can talk about all kinds of things in church,
I explained that when the scripture said the people were naked,
the Bible was trying to describe a kind of feeling.
When we do things God is sad about, we feel ashamed/embarrassed.
Zanna shook her head. “Well, that doesn’t make sense at all.
You need to talk to Hadley, she said.”

I wonder if Zanna would have gotten it if I had just said
that Adam and Eve were afraid.
Zanna would have understood that, everybody can, it seems to me.

Like the rest of us in one way or another, Zanna asks that I leave the door cracked
because she’s scared of the dark.

You know, if you look back at that story that Hadley read,
what we see is that when God is looking for our oldest ancestors,
wanting to be near them, God asks where are you?

That’s the first question in all of scripture. God wanting to be near us,
Where are you? And Adam, the earthling answers,
“I heard the sound of you walking in the garden,
and I hid because I was afraid.”

And there you have it: “From that point on, from the very beginning,
human beings are afraid.”

And we still are, aren’t we?
It’s not just omicron either.

We’re afraid of the pandemic of polarization in this nation.
We’re afraid of how warm the climate is, how cold the marriage is.
We’re afraid that there is not enough money
and too much self-medicating our crummy mental health.
We fear loss. Loss of wealth, of worth, loss of working memory.
We fear the other.
We fear being wrong, being right,
and we fear we’ve forgotten how to be humble when we don’t know which is which.

Fear may be the heart of the human condition,
but it is not at the heart of God.
Love is.
That is why angels always say “Do not be afraid.”

Notice they don’t say “there is nothing to be afraid of”
because that would be a lie, there is plenty to be afraid of in these days.
But the angels say what Sarah sang for us: God is here,
and God’s love is stronger than your fear.
They say “Don’t be afraid
for God has promised, promised to be always near.”

When Linus recites Luke’s Gospel for Charlie Brown in that old show,
he’s holding onto his Carolina blue security blanket.
Never in the history of Peanuts is Linus without that blanket.
We all have our ways of coping, I suppose.

When Linus takes the stage to tell what Christmas is all about,
he gets to the part where the shepherds are sore afraid
and then, as he says what angels always say
he drops the blanket. Fear not and both hands are free.

I wonder if we might live like that?
Courageous because of this night.
Unencumbered because of this baby.
Both hands free to share the goodwill for all people that this birth enables.

“Do not be afraid” are most repeated words
throughout the Christmas story.
And if you remember at the end,
on the other side of Jesus’ life,
when the tomb is empty and the grave clothes folded,
angels, once again, will say to the women:
Do not be afraid, he is Risen, just as he said.”

Do not be afraid is the number one message of God
throughout the whole Bible, 365 times, one for every day of the year.

I think that number is probably chance, but you know what, I’ll take it.
Surely I’m not the only one who needs a daily reminder.

What about you? Where are you? Tonight.
Sitting in your living room or masked on these pews.
Where are you?
Straining your neck to see inside the manger
or dreading what happens when this “break” is over.
Where are you?
Christmas means God never needs to ask that question of us again.
Because wherever we are—
ashamed or naked (sorry Zanna)
distracted or despairing
shaking scared of dark
God has found us. God has come near to us.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us, and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.