Let Jesus Show!
Text: Luke 2:1-20
I was raised in a family that adored Christmas. No matter what was happening in my parents’ lives or in the U.S. economy, Christmas was celebrated with abandon and joy at 98 Hermitage Road, Newport News, VA. Even when he could barely catch his breath after multiple heart attacks, when Christmas morning arrived, my dad was pure child. I will always be grateful for the gift of knowing someone who absolutely cherished Christmas.
Thanks to my parents, when it comes to Christmas, I will always be a young, wide-eyed, excited boy. And when it comes to Christmas, I will always want it to be a day filled with wonder, joy, and excitement. For at least one day of the year, I want to forget all the bad news that is such a regular visitor. I want to be transported to a joyful place that I could easily find as a child, a place where the words “pink slip,” “market crash,” “I’m sorry to tell you, but . . .”and “malignant” do not exist.
In her essay, “Wailing Wall,” Anne Lamott writes: “There was so much bad news this winter that many of us were left feeling pummeled and disturbed. Parents and relatives died, kids got into much more serious trouble, and way too many friends got a bad diagnosis. What can you say when people call with a scary or heart-breaking prognosis? . . . You can’t say that things will be fine down the road, because that holds the spiritual authority of someone chirping, ‘No worries’! at Starbucks, or my favorite, ‘It’s all good’! at the market. It’s so not all good. And I’m worried sick” (Grace Eventually, p. 25).
Thank you, Annie, but I do not want to hear about being “worried sick” on Christmas Eve, much less Christmas Day. I want to stop being “worried sick” and hear unqualifiedly good news.
Luke’s Christmas story has plenty of “good news of great joy for all people,” but the story does not begin there. On that holy night in fields outside Bethlehem, all the angels in the heavenly choir lined up, sopranos down front, basses in the back, altos to the left, and tenors nestled next to the sopranos. With voices that would melt even the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge, they sang an anthem of “Fear Not.”
Months earlier, Gabriel sang the same song to Zechariah and then to Mary. Somehow, the angels knew that nothing they would go on to sing would ever be heard as long as fear had its death lock on the shepherds. It is just as true for us today. Fear impairs our hearing and hardens our hearts.
Many years ago, Dante imagined fear as the express lane to Hell, not the cartoon Hell of a devil and pitchfork with flames of fire lapping around us, but the Hell where our hearts and our wills freeze over. Dante writes:
Their eyes, which had previously been wet within,
dripped tears over their features, and the cold
pressed the tears into the eyes and locked them up.
Board with board clamp never bound so tight . . .
weeping itself prevents weeping there. (Inferno Cantos 32:46-33:94).
I am sorry but on Christmas Eve, I do not want to hear about being “worried sick” or living in the Hell of fear. No matter what I want, though, fear does not disappear even on Christmas Eve and it does us little good to pretend otherwise.
It is no accident then that the angels begin the Christmas song with a rousing chorus of “fear not.” The shepherds needed to hear that song before they could hear anything else and if there is any song that the world needs to hear more on this holy night, please tell me what it is.
Well, maybe there is a song that needs to be sung even more, a song the angels go on to sing when they announce that the hope of the world has been born, in of all places, the little, nowhere town of Bethlehem, hope that refuses to remain hidden. The marvelous preacher, Fred Buechner, tells a marvelous story of a Christmas pageant a friend of his took part in, a story where hope refuses to remain hidden. Buechner writes:
The manger was down in front at the chancel steps where it always is. Mary was there in a blue mantle and Joseph in a cotton beard. The wise men were there with a handful of shepherds, and of course in the midst of them all, the Christ child was there, lying in the straw. The nativity story was read aloud by my friend with carols sung at the appropriate places, and all went like clockwork until it came time for the arrival of the angels of the heavenly host, as represented by the children of the congregation, who were robed in white and scattered throughout the pews with their parents.
At the right moment they were supposed to come forward and gather around the manger..., and that is just what they did except there were so many of them that there was a fair amount of crowding and jockeying for position, with the result that one particular angel, a [little] girl...who was smaller than most of them, ended up so far out on the fringes of things that not even by craning her neck and standing on tiptoe could she see what was going on. ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among men,’ they all sang on cue, and then in the momentary pause that followed, the small girl electrified the entire church by crying out in a voice shrill with irritation and frustration and enormous sadness at having her view blocked, ‘Let Jesus show!’
Tonight, it will still be dark outside when we leave and fear will be waiting for us by the curb, ready to jump in the car and go home with us, anxious to ruin our Christmas day and every day to follow. I say walk right on by fear and do not pause to greet fear for even a second, but instead, “Let Jesus show!”
Open your hearts to the Christmas gift of whom the angels’ sing, the One who is the “good news of great joy for us all” even in the dark, even when there are more bills to pay than money to pay them, even when there are more friendships to mend than we know how to mend them, even when there are more treatments awaiting than there is energy to go through them.
The Christmas gift of whom the angels sang is reason enough for every last one of us to “fear not,” reason enough to walk out of our sanctuary doors and know that nothing can separate us from that “good news of great joy.”
So, tomorrow, on Christmas morning and on every morning and night to follow, trust the song of the angels, “fear not” and then do not hesitate to join the heavenly chorus and “Let Jesus show!”