Faith Focus: Christmas joy, again now
“Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
Deep into one of the longest nights of the year we drove. Ten degrees above zero, clear sky, no wind and the northern lights danced above snowy pastures, lakes, swamps and darkened woodlands. We were headed home. Christmas Eve. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins galore, had just shared a wonderful evening while packed into Uncle Joe and Auntie Esther’s house in the country outside of Proctor, Minnesota. Christmas decorations, amazing food, fun and laughter, even a visit from Santa. Though, one of my uncles had to work and missed the jolly old fellow.
Now, bundled in winter coats, boots, scarves, mittens and tassel caps, side by side our family huddled as the heater pumped warm air into the protective confines of our car. We marveled at the Aurora Borealis, viewed by our ancestors as far back as humans have existed and there in the sky above us once again. Our night grew more and more magical as amazing colors frolicked across the heavens. We had to get back to Alborn by 11 p.m. for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. More lights and color awaited there.
Once inside the little white-steepled sanctuary, beloved neighbors, friends and relatives squeezed together in pews while the old oil stove glowed and radiated heat barely keeping the winter chill at bay. Soon Christmas carols played on the old pump organ and heartily sung by those northwoods folks lifted hearts and set minds at rest. And before the pastor preached, or the handheld candles were lit or “Silent Night” was sung, the Christmas Gospel from Luke was read. Every year on Christmas Eve, the same words — “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
I was about 8 years old, second grade, way past bedtime. Maybe dozed off in the pew, head in my mother’s lap, but the words were still read from the Gospel of Luke. The promise still given. Every Christmas Eve.
Those words were proclaimed when Dad was fixing Jeeps in distant New Guinea during World War II. When Reserve Mining was dumping asbestos laden tailings into Lake Superior. Long after research showed that smoking tobacco could cause cancer. Tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, chicken pox, mumps and measles all were being beaten back by medical advances and vaccines. Polio had a cure, too, but it still stole away my second-grade classmate’s life before she could receive the new treatment.
Those words — “Do not be afraid,” “good news,” “great joy,” “all the people,” “Savior” — they were shared amongst the people, on Christmas Eve, again, later, while my cousin was jumping out of helicopters in Vietnam, when John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, when the Berlin Wall fell.
This Christmas Eve 2021, in the midst of our life-threatening struggle with COVID-19, racism, climate change, radical political division and plenty of uncertainty, even about the future of our democracy, that promise will be read from church pulpits, around family Christmas trees, in hospital rooms, nursing homes, homeless shelters, and in jail cells throughout our community and world. The good news was given to the shepherds at their nightly workplace, to the young parents in the barn, to the foreign soldiers on guard at the palace, and to the old people waiting hopefully by their hearth for God’s rescue. Same today. Wherever and whenever.
“Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Once again, northern lights, carols, Christmas trees or not, we will be given another opportunity to hear and believe God’s promise, to live it, to be carried by it by God.
Merry Christmas. And do not be afraid.