In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, fear has been a rampant part of our lives. Parents have been afraid for the safety of their children. I talked to many parents who really did not want to send their kids back to school in those first days, even though they knew logically that this was not an option. We have also turned into a country fearful about guns – either fearful that they will be taken away from us or fearful that they will be used as a crutch to solve society’s ills instead of more peaceful means. And at a time when we focus on the Christ Child today, many of us fear the loss of innocence. We long for a more simple time – a moment of pure clarity when everything is made plain.
Over two thousand years ago on this day, things were made plain for a rag-tag team of shepherds. “Do not be afraid,” the angel says. “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” Good news. Great joy. All the people. These are words that do not strike fear in the hearts of the shepherds. They are words that instead set them free from fear. They are words that open up a window into hope. They are words that fill them with joy. For if this is good news of great joy for all people, then even people like unsavory, undesired, unloved shepherds are included in this news. And with this outpouring of good news, the shepherds are blown away by the most awesome chorus of voices praising God’s name. Fear is a fleeting feeling for these shepherds.
This fearless joy can be our gift too. We can let go of our angst about safety, about politics, about control, and take hold of the Good News of the Christ Child. We can gather around the host of angels and let the Good News rain down on us, and liberate us from fear.
Of course, that certainly sounds easy, and maybe even feels easy on this holiest of days. But can we really expect us to be able to live free from fear? The shepherds help us answer that question. The response of the shepherds is full of immediate action. The shepherds go with haste to find Mary, Joseph, and the child lying in a manger. The shepherds gather with the Holy Family, and share their story. Finally, the shepherds go out glorifying and praising God. The shepherds go, gather, and glorify.
This is the invitation of the gospel for us today. We too are to go, gather, and glorify. First, we are invited to go. When God speaks to us, we are to respond. The shepherds go with haste. And so, instead of pondering things in their hearts, or worrying about whether they might run into trouble along the way (which would have been a valid concern given the registration taking place in Bethlehem by Augustus and Quirinius)[i], the shepherds go with haste. So our first invitation is to let go of our fears and simply act. Act with immediacy when God calls us.
Next, the gospel invites us to gather. This incredible God experience does not happen for the sole benefit of the shepherds. The shepherds gather, creating a community of faith who share the Good News. We too are invited to gather with a community of faith. We do that today, as we gather on this holy day. But we are invited to gather regularly, so that we can share in the faith journey together, making sense of God’s call as a community. This work of discernment is not done alone. We need a community of faith to shape us and form us.
Finally, the gospel invites us to glorify. The Shepherds leave that manger scene with nothing in their hearts but praise of God. Glorifying God seems so simple, but sometimes glorifying God is what is the most difficult for us. We become so accustomed to coming to God, asking for things – for healing, for direction, for peace. We struggle with God, and long for God. But we sometimes forget to simply glorify God. Just two weeks ago, we heard in the letter to the Philippians the call to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” This is one of those days when we really need a large gospel choir who can lead us into glorifying God with those words, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, again I say, Rejoice!” Sometimes we simply need to let go of everything and glorify God.
This Christmas, the Church does not let us go home with a message of comfort without action. Instead, the Gospel is full of action: go, gather, and glorify. Now, I know you want to go home, eat a feast with friends or family, watch some basketball, and enjoy a day free of the obligations of work, school, and to-do lists. But remember that even those meals, those times with others can be a place to go, gather, and glorify. Go to your next stop with joy overflowing from the news of angels. Gather with a community, not letting the opening of presents override your telling of the miracle of the Christ Child. And glorify God – in your prayers over your meal, in your conversations with others. Perhaps focusing on glorifying God will get you out of the normal kvetching that often happens at Christmas meals. So, go, gather, and glorify. May this be our work this Christmastide. Amen.
[i] Michael S. Bennett, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009),118.