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December 24 2023

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

This morning we set the backdrop for the birth of Jesus – darkness. God sent His Son into a world of darkness and death. We can’t begin to appreciate the joy, the hope, the love, and the peace of Christmas until we see it against that backdrop of darkness. 

And with that backdrop set in place, let’s now read the famous words of Luke 2. 

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  

2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  

3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,  

5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  

6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  

7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  

9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  

12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 

14 “Glory to God in the highest, 

    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  

16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.  

17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.  

18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  

19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

Zechariah, Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds… 

All of these people have something in common. They were visited by angels, announcing the birth of Jesus. And each of them responded in fear. And then the angels told them not to be afraid. That’s not a coincidence.  

Luke also uses the word “fear” 16 times throughout his gospel – twice as much as all of the other Gospels combined!  

Every time God does something the people didn’t understand, they were filled with fear. And every time, God’s response was, “Do not fear.” 

This is something we need to understand about ourselves as humans. Richard Nixon once said, “People react to fear, not love. They don’t teach that in Sunday school, but it’s true.” 

In other words, if you want people to do something make them afraid. Politicians and advertisers understand this, don’t they? 

As a result, we currently live in a culture saturated with fear. The world is smaller than it used to be. We can know about everything that happens anywhere in the world. And then we either grow numb to it OR we grow more anxious and afraid. Neither of those is the correct response to the evil in this world.  

The correct response is to mourn when we see something broken and wrong. But as Christians, we are commanded not to fear. Why? Because every single fear is answered in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The angels say to Mary, and Joseph and the shepherds – do not be afraid.  

Instead, be filled with joy. Hope has arrived! Do not fear what men can do to you. Do not fear even death. Jesus is the answer for all problems of all people! 

He completely fulfilled this prophecy in Isaiah 41:  

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

God fulfilled that promise in Jesus. And if it is true, then we really don’t have ANY reason to be afraid. Ever. Never ever. 

Even so, a lot of people struggle with this question: Why does God continue to let things happen that make us afraid? Why are we still surrounded by so much darkness?  

Consider first that God doesn’t let anything happen to us that He wasn’t willing to experience Himself, even though He didn’t have to. His family had to run to Egypt to escape terrorism. And then Jesus endured rejection, abandonment, abuse, torture, ridicule, and death for people who didn’t deserve it. There has never been a leader more worthy of our respect and allegiance than Jesus. 

Second, He tells us that He is with us in the midst of the darkness. I AM WITH YOU. Present tense. Forever tense. He’s with us. Literally right now and He’s not leaving your side. If you are united to Jesus by faith, literally nothing can separate us from Him. 

And you might say, “Well, I can’t see Him.” I know. You can’t see gravity either, but you know it’s there. It’s why you don’t walk off a cliff. And we don’t even understand why gravity exists. We just know it’s there. I feel the same about Jesus. I’m just as certain He is with me.  

Finally, I believe that Jesus is physically coming back one day because He said so. 

Fear and darkness go hand in hand, right? You don’t have to teach a child to be afraid of the dark. They just are. And in the darkest, coldest time of the year we celebrate the light of a God willing to send His only Son, perfect and holy, to be born of a woman – born that man no more may die.  

And one day, our King will return and He will end the tears and the sickness and the death and He will even end the darkness. In the meantime, God invites us to trust Him… to give thanks for the first advent of Jesus, to trust His presence with us now, and to pray for His second coming.