Listen to the Angel

The angel said to them: ?Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.?

Let us listen to the angel this night.
I?ve no idea whether you are in the habit of conversing with angels ? I?m told that they are getting more popular in people?s spirituality year on year. I don?t often meet with them myself. However, just for tonight. Christmas Night. Let us meet this angel and the heavenly host. They are in the business of proclaiming things and singing. We have begun to join in the song ? time to listen for the message.

I am struck as I look at this strange story of the angels coming to the shepherds by the very first thing that is said. ?Do not be afraid?. This, my friends is Gospel. I?ve little idea how it actually was that first year in Bethlehem. I know not what angels look like nor even what it was like to be a shepherd though I suspect that it was cold on the Judean hills. But I know Gospel when I hear it. And I hear it in the first words of the angel. ?Be not afraid?.

Not words of complicated theology. No words explaining how the Trinity was being unveiled to the world that night. No rules telling the shepherds how to live. No exposition on how to found a church or start a great mission of God. Not a summary of the doctrine of the incarnation. None of these things. The words of the angel were Gospel, ?Do not be afraid?.

Do not be afraid. For you have something to latch on to. You have something to hold on to. You have a God whom you can touch. You may not see angels, but there are others around you with whom you can join in singing.

And with God involved? And with others singing songs of peace?does the world seem such a frightening place?

The events in Bethlehem can seem to be unfolding a long time ago. Well, it can seem so, until you read the story again. All the people of the known world were caught up in the census. Weary travellers on the road to their own town. Poor local people on the hills in the cold. Those with riches, in their palaces in Jerusalem supping with the enemy oppressors. The middle east in turmoil. Foreign soldiers everywhere. Homeless young families on the run from the authorities. Is it really all so very long ago or is it unfolding right now? Will Christ be born this year? He comes as surely as the day will dawn.

Christ came into a world which seems in many ways terribly familiar to us. A world where there was much to be frightened of. A world filled with fear. Fearful shepherds. Fearful Herod. Fearful Joseph. And probably fear in Mary?s heart too.

Yet the angels came and sang. And when they came, the first thing said to human beings was ?Do not be afraid?.

I ask you this night, what it is you are frightened of. Are you frightened that things will not all be perfect on Christmas Day? Are you fearful of the people you will be with? Or of them time you spend on your own? Are you frightened for the world ? as mad with terrorism and violence as it was 2000 years ago? Are you frightened for yourself? Or for the world?s children?

Whatever you fear. This night, hear the message of the angel. Do not be afraid.

I do not know who you all are this night and I know not where you are from. But I know that God comes to you this night whoever you are. And my guess is that you need to hear the message of the angel again. Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid for God has come into the world. Into the world of Joseph and Mary and the Shepherds and the Kings sure enough. But come into your world too.

Take from this service tonight the news, good news, that Christ is born. Born to free us from all that frightens us.

Whoever you are and wherever you are from, that news to you will come in the place you are ? It came to the shepherds in their place on the cold hillside. It came to the intellectuals ? the Magi from the East as they worked at their studies. And it came to Herod too in his palace, though he liked the news less.

Maybe you feel like one of the shepherds. Cold and tired. Watching the craziness of the world from the hillside above the town. Christ will come to you.

Maybe you feel like the Magi ? searching for the truth ? coming on a strange journey. Christ is waiting for you to discover him.

Maybe tonight your task is simply to join with the angels and sing their songs. And to tell the world to be afraid no more. Your God will be born too.

If God wanted to get a message through to you. What would God do? What if that message were so important ? and it had to be delivered to you. And that by receiving it, all the world would be changed?

The Christmas story is there to tell us that God?s message has come. A message that is so crucial. A message that is that important.

God?s message did not come as an e-mail we could delete. Not a letter could get stuck in the Christmas post. Not in a white envelope we could forget to answer. Not a Christmas card to put on the mantelpiece for a dozen festive days. No, God came as none of these things but came to us as one of us. Came to us as a baby who, like each new born child cannot be ignored at all.

Wrapped in swaddling clothes, God comes to us. Lying in a manger of hay, propped up in the donkey?s dinner, God comes to us. Announced by angels. Worshipped by Shepherds. Discovered by the kings. And proclaimed here in this place this night. God comes to us.

Look out! Whoever you are and wherever you are from: Your God is born to you. Alleluia!

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