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Presents or Presence?

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Christmas Eve service – 7 pm December 24, 2016

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7, 7:14, Luke 2:1-20, John 1:1-14 (All from “The Message”)

On December 9, 1965 something special happened.

On that day 51 years ago, CBS first broadcast The Charlie Brown Christmas Special. When one does some reading on the special it becomes quite evident that it was unique for a lot of reasons. First off, is the soundtrack. Instead of some music more fitting of a cartoon, we get the smooth jazz sounds of Vince Girauldi.

But the most memorable part of the special is when Linus VanPelt recites part of the birth story of Jesus. It was unusual for such an open display of faith to be seen on television.

Linus is known for being the younger brother of Lucy VanPelt and for being rather smart. But he is known for something else ever more so: his security blanket. Linus carries his blanket everywhere, he is never without it.

But if we remember Linus on stage sharing the story of the shepherds, we weren’t watching his blanket. Because if we were, we would notice midway through his speech, he let’s go of this blanket. To be exact, he lets go of the blanket when he comes to the words, “Fear not.”

To Linus that blanket is what keeps him safe in the world. And yet, at this crucial moment he gives it up.

The shepherds in Luke’s telling of the Nativity had every reason to be scared. Here they are, out on this evening to take care of their sheep. It’s an evening like any other evening they have had to work. And then out of nowhere, this man appears to them. And we learn this angel tells the shepherds to “fear not.”

Those had to be the most silliest words ever uttered in Scripture. What are you supposed to do when someone just shows up out of thin air!

There is something interesting about the Christmas Stories. We like to think they are filled with joy, but they are actually filled with fear. Notice the many times the angel had to say fear not. Gabriel said this to Mary and Zechariah as they were being told the good news of children. The shepherds were afraid. Even in the story of the Three Kings, we see that Herod is afraid of a two year old who was considered a king.

Fear is something that is sewed into the human heart. We deal daily with fear. This past year has seen a number of experiences that have made us scared.

It also made some of us suspicious of refugees from Syria, worried that there could be terrorists among them. We are fearful of those who happen to think differently than us.

Some fears are not fears based on people, but on situations. Some fear if they can pay the rent this month or put food on the table. Some fear losing their jobs.

So it isn’t odd that the angel said “fear not.” It is all around us. It has us all in its grip.

Our anxieties tend to dictate our lives. We worry about almost everything around us. We might worry if there will be enough money to retire, or if our health will be okay. We might worry about the safety of our loved ones. It could be as insignificant as just the anxiety of traffic, of being on time at an appointment.

Yes, when we give each other presents, one of the main reasons we have the custom of giving and receiving presents at Christmas, is to remind us of the presents given to Jesus by the Wise Men: Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh. But closer to the point, Christmas itself is really about a big present that God gave the world about 2000 years ago – Jesus! One of the most famous Bible verses, John 3:16, says: “God loved the world so much, that God gave God’s one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life.”

This in itself draws our attention away from “Presents” towards “Presence.”

I do however think that the greatest gift is the Child born in Bethlehem. This way God became present and the “Presence” of God in this world became tangible. We could feel and experience God being Immanuel, which means “God with us.” No wonder Linus is able to “fear not”, and drop the blanket.

God enables you and me to be representatives of God’s presence. We can be there for one another, for those in need, for those seeking shelter from the cold.

I like to think that Linus dropped his blanket because at the moment, he had no fear. He realised that God’s Son meant that God is now with us. The question for us is can we realise that? Can we drop the blankets of fear that we carry with us or use to protect us from life? Jesus is born. We will feel fear, of course, but because of the birth of a baby centuries ago, we need not fear for God is with us.

Drop the blanket. Merry Christmas.

 

Copyright 2016 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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