Tonight is about birth. Tonight we celebrate the birth of a child in a manger, tonight we celebrate the birth of light in the darkness, tonight we celebrate the birth of hope that counters our fears.
And certainly there are plenty of fears out there. Fears about employment, fears about violence, fears for our children. Just open up any newspaper and you will see a litany of possible reasons to be afraid. If we let it, fear will fill our lives.
There is fear in our story too. The fear of a young woman, a teenager really, pregnant too soon. The fear of shepherds surprised by a bright light. The fear of peasants living under the thumb of the rich and powerful. And (hidden in the shadows of the story) the fear of the powerful that they will be replaced.
Underlying all these fears, the ones in the old story and the ones in our papers today, is change. Ask any parent and they will tell you that any birth means that life is changed, changed irreversibly. And change can be exciting and frightening at the same time. So on this night when we celebrate birth we also celebrate change and the possibility of change. And so the angel song and carols are coloured with uncertainty and fear.
What changes are happening in our lives today? As the economy sputters and struggles are we on the verge of birthing a new and different understanding of what makes for economic health? As people move around to find work what changes happen within families and communities? As our children grow up in a Canada where traditional industries are being replaced with knowledge industries do we wonder what their future will hold? US President-elect Obama ran his whole campaign on a promise of “Change we can believe in”. As we feel the labour pains of that changed world being born we squirm in fear and discomfort.
Christmas is all about birth. It isn't about the birth of a baby in a tiny town long ago and far away. Or at least not only about that birth. Christmas is about the birth of a changed world. It is about the Holy One being born in our midst here and now. Since every birth brings change, what changes does the Christmas birth bring?
The Christmas birth is the birth of light in the darkness. For many of us darkness is a symbol of fearfulness. The shadows hide the unknown. The shadows are where danger lurks. At Christmas light is born, light that overcomes all the darknesses of our lives. The Christmas birth is of a light which will help us find our way in a world of uncertainty.
The Christmas birth is God becoming, again, over and over, part of our world. Christmas is the promise that we are not alone, that God has not forsaken us. As the Holy One becomes incarnated in our lives we see new possibilities for how we can share this tiny blue ball called Earth. Christmas gives birth to the reality that the Reign of God is present among us – even if only in an infancy and needing to grow strong and large.
The Christmas birth is the birth of hope. It is said that the birth of any child is God saying that there is hope for the future. Christmas marks the birth of hope in a world that can, and will, and must, be a better place for all. The baby in the manger reminds us to care for the least and weakest among us. The Christmas birth reminds us of the incredible potential of childhood. This night hope is born again. Tonight hope is born that can face down the worst despair of a world in chaos and change.
And so in the midst of a world that is changing, as we face the reality of change which we can rarely control, in the fear of the unknown, what is the Good News of Christmas here in 2008? The Good News is the same as the angel message to Mary and to the Shepherds. Be Not Afraid! Fear Not! Great things are happening. For unto us, all of us, is born tonight hope, and love, and peace, and light. Christmas means birth. Birth means possibility and promise and potential. The angels don't tell us not to be afraid because there is nothing to fear. The angel message tells us not to be afraid because there is Good News that can bring light to the darkness, hope to those who despair, life where there is death, and love that overpowers fear.
Be not afraid. God is born among us again tonight. And may the light, promise and hope of Christmas carry you forward into this crazy world throughout the year that is to come. Joy to the World! The Lord is come! Amen.