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Encountered at Christmas

Luke 2:10-11

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Priest-in-Charge

December 24, 2014

Suddenly there stood before them an angel of the Lord and the splendor of the Lord shone round about them. They were terror-stricken but the angel said: “Do not be afraid. I have good news for you there is coming great joy to the whole people. Today, in the city of David a deliverer has been born to you the Messiah, the Lord” 

We have just read the Christmas story. We have heard about Caesar Augustus and the governor of Syria, about the appearance of an angel and of a host of angels, about Joseph and Mary, about the birth of a baby in Bethlehem.

What went through your mind as you heard this Gospel read? Perhaps some of you didn't listen very carefully—this happens quite often. The message passes overhead, lost like a puff of smoke among the clouds while our minds dwell on things that really matter. Will the kids make it safely down in time for Christmas dinner tomorrow? Where am I going to get the money to pay this year's income tax?

Shall I read the Gospel again for those of you with wandering thoughts? It's worth repeating twice but you have already heard it hundreds of times and can probably repeat it from memory.

Some of you may have thought: “My, what a nice fairy tale, just like Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, too beautiful to be true, too far removed from the realities of life.” Shall I debate with you?

I'm sure some of you were engaged in associative thinking, hearing again the Christmas story brought to your mind many precious memories: A Christmas pageant when as a little girl you played the role of Mary. Or of a father now long gone who used to dress up as Santa Claus. Maybe you were thinking of that special present you got last year, and wondered if you will be so pleasantly surprised tomorrow.

All of these things are very human reactions to the reading of the Christmas story. A little absent mindedness, a little unbelief, a little Christmas sentiment. This is our response—not only yours, but mine as well—to the greatest story ever told.

Until the Angel of the Lord—God’s messenger—appears suddenly and breaks through the humdrum of our thoughts. Absent mindedness, unbelief, sentimentality are swept away when we are encountered by a messenger from God.

Those shepherds on that hillside on that night so long ago were ordinary folk, like you and me, going about their own business thinking their own thoughts. When suddenly, the stillness of the night was broken. The sky became ablaze with light. What was this? Searchlights of the Secret Police? The flash of bombs the Islamic State of ISIL becomes a flaming sword? A repeat of 9-11 and the threat of economic collapse?

The Shepherds fell to the ground in terror. But it was not the armies of Rome which stood before them. They were encountered by the Angel of the Lord. To stand in the presence of God one also feels terror. Under the searchlight of the soul, the forgetfulness, the unbelief, the shallowness of our lives all stand exposed. We are forced to look at ourselves as we really are; to see ourselves as God sees us. But just as we are about go give up in despair...He speaks:

“Do not be afraid, I have great news, There is great joy coming to a whole people. . .”

Tonight, He speaks—to you, to me. We, who are trying to live out our lives in peace, trying to find some meaning for our existence. Common, ordinary folk. But a people who are called to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation. To us he brings good news. The One who sets us free has come.

We, who have been baptized into Christ’s body. We, who are fellow heirs given to share in Christ’s inheritance. We are called upon this night to remember His birth and to remind ourselves of what His coming means for us, and to renew our faith in His eternal promise.

Out of the darkness God’s messenger speaks. Our preoccupation, our confusion, our sentimentality are transformed into joy and hope as we stand together in His presence. My sisters and brothers, I bid you Merry Christmas on the eve of the birthday of our Lord. Amen.