Read the text here: Luke 2:1-20
“In those days…” begins the Gospel story. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus” Luke is very specific about those days. Which days are those days? They are days marked by those who hold absolute power – Caesar Augustus and Quirinius the Roman Governor in Syria. “In those days…” daily life is lived – both at the time of Jesus and in our own time. “Those days…” are marked with successes and failures, joy and sorrow, loss and grief and most of all fear. “Do not be afraid” says the angel first to Zechariah then to Mary and now to the Shepherds. “Do not be afraid!” Why is it that every proclamation of the angels in the story that takes the first two chapters of Luke is prefaced with these words – “Do not be afraid”? Because fear defines and governs “those days.” Fear is what prompts decisions and shapes relationships. And this is true for us as well, isn’t it? Fear continues to shape us in ways we may not realize; fear continues to govern and define us. It doesn’t matter whether is it the fear of the emperor or the Romans or whether it is fear of terrorists, or of violence or of strangers, or pain, or loss or death. Fear continues to shape us, our actions, our decision and our priorities, just as it shaped those who were a part of this first Christmas story in Luke so long ago – Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds.
“In those days…” are our days… So what fears and struggles did you bring with you tonight into this place? Fear of loss, of violence – fear of financial instability, the fiscal cliff – job fears, job struggles – relationship struggles and conflicts – frustrations – anger - addictions – grief and sorrow - – worry and fear about children or grandchildren or family – worry and fear about health concerns - loneliness?
The angel speaks: “Do not be afraid, for see – open your eyes – I am bringing you good news of great joy which will be for all people of every time and every place including all of you here assembled tonight in this place. - For unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord! This day! This day bursts into those days and dispels the darkness and the fear. This day is a new day – that holds all that I just listed that makes up those days – for this day brings with it hope and light and promise.
Do you see? Luke is proclaiming to us that time is transformed in the birth of Christ. “Those days” are, in Greek, the Chronos, or chronological time that rules our daily lives. Chronos Time is time that passes by quickly – seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years all fly by and too often they are governed by fear and failure and loss and darkness and death. But “this day” in Greek, the Kairos time or holy time is time that is pregnant and filled with the promises of God: time that is filled with hope and God’s love and God’s grace. Kairos time, or Holy time, according the angels, is time that is governed and defined by peace or shalom – that is complete well-being. The peace that the angels sing about is not just the absence of conflict – even Caesar Augustus could accomplish that! No, the peace the angels sing of is a peace that “surpasses human comprehension” – for it is being at one, it is being in unity with God and with others.
It is this gift that God holds out to us – “this day.” “In those days…” dark with fear and violence and trouble a poor pregnant teenage girl and her equally poor and struggling husband make an unwanted and harsh trip by foot to a place which was far from their home. The girl then goes into labor. In the harsh environment and darkness of “those days” the husband can only find a dark smelly cave where animals are kept from the cold overnight. In that very unwelcoming place this girl gives birth to a boy. And this boy is none other the very incarnation of God, come into those days. With this birth, this day bursts into “those days” and scatters the fear and darkness with hope and promise and light. And the angels appear to the most outcast of outcasts of those days. Shepherds who had been excluded from the temple, excluded from cities and villages, who were mistrusted, who were hated, it is to them the angels sing – “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom God favors!” That is: Glory in the heavens comes about when Peace or complete well-being takes over those days on earth.
“Unto you this day” has burst into those days for us as well. We come into this place on this dark and cold night and we have all brought with us fears and struggles. But on this day we can offer those up to God, and hear the proclamation again that a child is born- God incarnate – Immanuel – God with us. And we can give those days over to God asking God to replace fear with hope; asking and expecting to feel God’s presence; knowing that we all rest in God’s grace. And here this day we can experience – even if just for a moment – a foretaste of the feast to come – a moment of shalom, of peace. This is why we worship on this day! This is why come together to re-tell and remember and re-experience the story, so that the story of God’s incarnation can become our story. This is why in this darkness we sing carols, say prayers, share bread and wine and sit in reverent silence – so that the hopes and fears of all the years of those days will be met in tonight on this day in Jesus, who is our savior and Lord.
An audio recording of this sermon, preached on Christmas Eve 12/24/12, can be found at wartburgparish.com