December 24, 2020   Do Not Be Afraid, Pastor David Tatgenhorst 

December 24, 2020 Do Not Be Afraid St. Luke UMC

“Do not be afraid” the angel says when they appear to the shepherds in the field. “Do not be afraid.” Angels have a habit of saying “do not be afraid” when they greet folks in the Bible. I can’t imagine that it does much good, because anybody I know is going to be close to terrified when an angel appears out of nowhere. Even if they are bringing glad tidings of great joy, I’m going to be quaking in my boots.

I understand that the phrase “Do not be afraid” appears in the Bible 365 times, one for each day of the year. Of course, this year is a leap year, so maybe we missed one day of reassurance. It has been a scary year. I don’t have to go into all the reasons why. It has been a scary year for all of us, and for each of us in our own particular ways. 

So we may take solace in the words of the angel on this sacred evening. We may take to heart the reassurance of the angel, and we may want to ask the angel to give us a little more - a reason to not be afraid, a reason to look forward to the coming year with a little more courage and hope. 

As we listen once again to the beautiful story of the birth of Jesus in the gospel of Luke, we notice that the holy family had reasons to be afraid.  It had not been a particularly relaxing year. The story is full of trouble and difficulty from the beginning as they get rather disturbing messages that Mary is going to be ‘overshadowed’ by the Holy Spirit and she will get pregnant - but ‘do not be afraid’ the angel says to Mary. And then the angel appears to Joseph. “Do not be afraid” the angel says to Joseph. It’s all going to turn out fine. And then they have to travel to Bethlehem because of an oppressive Roman imperial census, and they get there and there’s no room for them in the upper room…. excuse me, I have to take a slight detour here to explain -  the word that we usually translate “inn” as there is no room for them in the inn, that is the same word that is translated elsewhere “upper room.”

The upper room was the guest room, like a shack on the roof.  The family stayed in the house in their own part of the first floor. The upper room - or inn, or guest room - was a kind of ledge built just up from the lower level where the animals were brought in to provide some warmth during the night. 

There was no room for Joseph and pregnant Mary in the upper room - the guest room where guests would usually be invited, so they had to stay down with the animals. Jesus, then was born lowly, but not lonely, laid in a feeding trough. There were other creatures around. Not really very calm and bright.

In Luke’s version of the story there were no kings with gifts, no frankincense, no gold, no myrrh -  just ordinary old shepherds. These were the shepherds told to not be afraid, told they would get a sign. And your ears might perk up at least at that. There will be a sign. 

And when we hear that there was no room in the inn for the baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph, and we find out that the word for inn is the same as for upper room, the upper room -where later a meal would happen on the night before Jesus was betrayed and killed - that was certainly a reminder of worse times to come. There would be times to be afraid and times when they would need to have courage and hope for God’s presence.