Gospel Reflections for Christmas
Luke 2: 8-12: 8. Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. 9. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. 10. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 12. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Homily starter anecdote: 5-year-old Johnny was in the kitchen as his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup, but he didn’t want to go alone. "It’s dark in there and I’m scared." She asked again, and he persisted. Finally, she said, "It’s OK Johnny, Jesus will be in there with you." Johnny walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came, and he said, "Jesus, if you’re in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup?" (http://stjohngrandbay.org/wt/client/v2/story/WT_Story.cfm?SecKey=151)
Introduction: The most consoling and encouraging message of Christmas is the angelic message, “Do not be afraid.” This is a phrase that occurs 88 times in the Bible -- and is mostly spoken by God to His people. This phrase is repeated so often that this short phrase has been called a distillation of the whole Bible. The Lord said it to Abraham before cutting a covenant with him: “Don’t be afraid.” Angel Gabriel said it to Daniel when he was frightened by a terrifying vision: “Don’t be afraid.” The angel said it to Zechariah, future father of John the Baptist. Angel Gabriel said it to Mary, who was troubled at the news she received. An angel said it to shepherds startled by the Christmas glory that shone round them. Jesus repeatedly said it to his disciples, culminating in his resurrected appearance when he came to his grieving, fearful friends and spoke the words, “Don’t be afraid.” Mary Magdalene heard this same command when she was in the garden searching for Jesus in the empty tomb. So, on this Christmas day, perhaps this command is the very one God would give to us today: “Don’t be afraid.”
Since it is found all over the Bible as words spoken by God, we can trust them. All of us have fears: fears for the safety of our families, fears of our own health and life, fears about possible accidents, illnesses, violent home intrusion, fears about our jobs. We are afraid of snakes and poisonous creatures, deep water and fire hazards. We are afraid of the health of a loved one that seems to be slipping away. We are all afraid to lose what we do have. We are still afraid that what we do have, may not be enough in the end. On a global level, are afraid of terrorist attacks, nuclear warfare, religious persecution, global warming and so many other natural disasters. Christmas reminds us that if we fear God with reverential fear prompted by love, we don’t have to fear anything else in the world. We don’t have to fear people & things that can only hurt us in this life. No one, can take away who we are in Christ. No one, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus!
Why we should not be afraid? The essence of Christmas message is that we need not be afraid because of three main reasons. 1) We have a divine Savior to save us from our sins and grant us eternal life with Him. 2) We have an Immanuel God who lives with us and within us as our source of strength and guidance. 3) We have a love-sharing God who wanted to share His love with us by becoming one of us and sharing our fears, temptations, pains and suffering.
1) We should not be afraid because we have Savior God. Jesus, the Incarnation of God as man, came to save us from the bondage of sin. The Hindu Scriptures describe ten incarnations of God. The purpose of these incarnations is stated in their Holy Scripture, Bagavath Geetha or Song of God. “God incarnates to restore righteousness in the world whenever there is a large-scale erosion of moral values.” But the Christian Scriptures teach that there was only one Incarnation of God, and its purpose is stated in John 3: 16: “God so loved the world that he sent His only Son so that ever one who believes in Him may not die, but have eternal life.” We celebrate that Incarnation today as good news because we have a Divine Savior. As our Savior, Jesus atoned for our sins and liberated us from slavery to sin by his suffering, death and resurrection. Every Christmas reminds us that we still need this Savior to be reborn in our hearts and to live there, for we need him every day to free us from our evil habits, addictions, baseless fears and unjust, impure and uncharitable tendencies. Hence, Christmas challenges us to accept Jesus our as our Lord God and personal Savior and to surrender our sinful lives to him, allowing him to rule our lives.
2) We should not be afraid because we have an Immanuel God living with us and within us. Christmas is the feast of the Emmanuel because God in the New Testament is God-with-us, Emmanuel, who continues to live with us in all the events of our lives as announced by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary. The Creator of this vast and wondrous universe entered our history on this night and became human for us. What this means, of course, is that God does not intend to destroy us but to redeem and restore us to be the people he created us to be. The Christmas story tells us that there is a way out of our sinfulness and hopelessness, because God is with us. We are not alone. There is a mighty God within us to strengthen us in our weaknesses and temptations. As Emmanuel, Jesus lives in the Sacraments (especially in the Holy Eucharist), in the Holy Bible, in the praying community and in each believer, with the Holy Spirit Who is transforming us daily into the "Temples of the Holy Spirit.” Hence, each Christmas reminds us that we are bearers of God with the missionary duty of conveying Jesus to others around us by loving others as Jesus did, through sacrificial, humble and committed service. Sharing with others Jesus, the Emmanuel living within us, is the best Christmas gift we can give to, or receive from, others.
3) We should not be afraid because we have a God who wanted to share His love with us by becoming one of us and sharing our fears, temptations pains, and suffering. Jesus, as our Savior, brought the “good news” that our God is a loving, forgiving, merciful, saving and rewarding God and not a judging, cruel and punishing God. Jesus demonstrated by his life and teaching how God, our heavenly Father, loves us, forgives us, provides for us and rewards us. All his miracles were signs of this Divine Love. Jesus’ final demonstration of God’s love for us was his death on the cross to atone for our sins and to make us children of God. It means that God accepts each of us just as we are. Each Christmas reminds us that sharing love with others is our Christian duty, and every time we do that, Jesus is reborn in our lives. Let us face this question, “What does it profit me if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world and He is not born in my heart?” (Alexander Pope). Hence, let us free ourselves from all our fears by allowing Jesus to be reborn in our hearts and lives, not only during Christmas, but every day, so that he may radiate the light of his presence from within us as sharing and selfless love, expressed in compassionate words and deeds, unconditional forgiveness, the spirit of humble service and overflowing generosity. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)
Additional anecdote: Summarizing theology into one sentence: Karl Barth, one of the great protestant theologians was asked to be a guest lecturer at the University of Chicago Divinity School. At the end of a captivating closing lecture, the president of the seminary announced that Dr. Barth was not well and was quite tired. "Therefore, I will ask just one question on behalf of all of us." He turned to the renowned theologian and asked, "Of all the theological insights you have ever had, which do you consider to be the greatest of them all? It was the perfect question for a man who had written literally tens of thousands of pages of some of the most sophisticated theology ever put into print. Karl Barth closed his tired eyes, and he thought for a minute, and then he half smiled, opened his eyes, and said to those young seminarians, "The greatest theological insight that I have ever had is this: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Christmas is the celebration of this great divine love for us sinful humans.(Antony Kadavil)