On this holy night the Church invites us to celebrate with joy the great event of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
We know the details well:
- born of the Virgin Mary in a stable because there was no room in the inn
- wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger – not a cradle
The outward circumstances are of poverty and anonymity but they conceal a mystery.
This great mystery would have gone by unnoticed and unknown had not heaven opened and the angels come down to sing of Jesus’ birth. After all, as Luke says further on in his Gospel: No one lights a lamp and puts it under a tub or hides it under a bed.
Jesus was God’s light, the light for the whole world, and God his Father wanted him to be seen and known by all. And so he sent the angel to the shepherds tending their sheep in the fields nearby: Listen, I bring you news of great joy … today a saviour has been born to you…
After many years of reflection by the Church we now know that in this child, God himself, has come down to humanity. God has become man in order to give man a share in God's own divinity.
This is the good news of salvation, the message of Christmas, the best news the world has ever heard - the birth of a baby.
But did you notice the first words the angel said?
Do not be afraid!
Of course, in an immediate sense the angel is telling the shepherds not to be afraid of him because the angel's sudden appearance would certainly have startled them. But the angel is speaking also to us, here and now in Sydney. That’s why the Holy Scripture is so powerful and relevant; its spirit-filled words are spoken to every people in every age. Do not be afraid!
- Firstly, don’t be afraid of God. That may seem like a funny thing to say but I truly believe there are many people who are afraid of God, and yet there is no need. God is our loving Father, our loving Creator. He loves us with a deep and faithful love. He understands us, our weaknesses and our broken dreams, our sinfulness and our failures, and yet he loves us. I believe this is one of the main things wrong with humanity today - we don’t understand God's love for us. And because of this we don’t know how much we are worth. What a sad situation!
- Secondly, do not be afraid of the Gospel. The Gospel is indeed Good News of great joy! Do not let your fear block your ears or harden your hearts. Don’t be afraid to believe these words from heaven. This is God’s word to you.
- Thirdly, don’t be afraid of this child; don’t be afraid of Jesus - he means you no harm. Don’t be afraid to open the doors of your heart to him, to give him access to your inner self. Don’t be afraid to let him into your relationships, your marriage, your family, your private life. Talk to him, trust him, confide in him because that is why he came. He is looking for you. He wants you to approach him. He already knows you through and through, every detail of your life, and yet he loves you with a love no other person can equal. Don’t be afraid of his love; it will bring you healing, completeness, joy, peace and life.
Let me finish off by telling you something which I think is so little known that one could almost call it a secret. On Christmas night God gives us a saving message, yes, of course. He gives us a saving truth which we must believe, yes, I won’t argue with that. But most of all God gives us this night a saving relationship, a relationship he invites us to enter.
We are not saved by reading a book or attending a church service. We are saved by entering a relationship.
In the child of Bethlehem God enters a love affair with mankind, a love affair which saves us from our own evil and the evil of others.
He presents himself before us in the manger as a gift of total love and invites us to respond. It is our response that is crucial.
What the angel is saying to us tonight is 'Do not be afraid! This helpless child in the manger is the one you have been longing for, the one who loves you as you need to be loved, as you long to be loved. He alone can satisfy this hunger of yours for love and life. Do not be afraid to enjoy his favour.'