Do not be afraid. Listen. I bring you news of great joy.

Twelve words in three sentences. With those words, the angel who was anointed to first deliver the Gospel message, announced it to the shepherds. Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, Immanuel had arrived. The Word made flesh had come. God is among us. You are going to have joy!

We often get so caught up in our dramas, and even in church bureaucracy, that we miss the essential and constant message given to us this night. The Good News of great joy!

Jesus came to bring good news. His news takes away all that is scary, all that is condemning, and that which rises to bring us down by accusation. His news is strong enough to overcome any negativity in our lives. He literally set aside His glory and crown in that impoverished stable to bring us victory, a crown, a trophy we can proudly display.

His victory – our salvation.

His crown – given us as the crown of eternal life.

Our trophy – new lives, changed lives, un-fearing, brave lives of witness and proclamation wherein we say with the angel, to all who will hear us, Do not be afraid. Listen. I bring you news of great joy.

Do not be fooled by this gentle sight – for within it is symbolized Jesus, the great warrior King who comes toward us. He came to do war with fear, condemnation, and accusation. He came not to war with us, but rather to deliver us from the war the world makes. He came toward us and invites us to stand with Him as our great shield. Behind His shield we go forward with twelve words in three sentences, saying to all who will hear us: Do not be afraid. Listen. I bring you news of great joy.

We have God’s great Good News. Good news of great joy. How wonderful, how blessed is this night. Do not be afraid. Listen. I bring you news of great joy.

Real, present help.
No fear!

Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

I have had quite a week. Actually, a week-and-a-half. It has been filled with a constant barrage of work, travel, preparation for Church events. I have been in nine cities in seven days, with two more to go. I will be leaving to chaplain Kurs in less than a week. After that I am off to Baltimore and will be filling in for Fr. Mark at our neighboring parish. This weekend was my son’s high school graduation. We had family and friends with us with all the incumbent preparation that entails. Coincidentally, as we prepared for his graduation party, his first college bill came in the mail. Somewhere in here is a parish committee meeting.

As I read Jesus’ words and prepared for today, I said – this makes total sense. Not just “Fear no one…” but really, with Jesus, fear nothing!

This is one of those scriptures that speaks to us where we are. So it is as we enter Ordinary Time in the Church year. These scriptures will speak to where we are and will urge us to deeper spiritual formation, authentic responses to God’s call in the midst of our challenges, and to a renewed commitment to mission and evangelism.

Today’s scripture translates into a call to fearless witness. How easy it is to get overwhelmed by life, by the many pushes and pulls on our schedules. In the midst of the storm, we are called to remember that Jesus is with us. He is with us to tell us that as long as we cling to Him we will make it through. More than that, we will come out victorious. We are reminded that we can be like Jesus, in the back of the boat, in the midst of the storm – sound asleep and at peace.

Jesus tells us that we need not fear the “hosts of evil” around us however they might show up or appear in our lives. Jesus is with us and in control.

What places us in Gehenna? It is those things we think are greater than God. Is a crazy schedule, travel, messes of meetings and obligations greater than Jesus? Absolutely not! We are to take these challenges and flip them on their head. We are to see and use them as opportunity to deepen our faith in Jesus as our strength. Our authentic response is to freely praise God and to publicly acclaim Christ as Lord over all; giving public account for the hope that is in us. Let us live daily acknowledging, trusting, abiding in, and praising God’s real and present help – no fear.

Expect the
unexpected.

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

What doesn’t change? If we took a moment, we could probably jot down a list of the things that don’t change a whole lot from year to year, Christmas to Christmas.

Those red poinsettias that always decorate the parish; they’re so beautiful. But wait; didn’t Fr. Jim add while ones a couple years ago to signify the purity of the Christ child? Hmmm.

Growing up we always went to my aunt and uncle’s house down the street for the Christmas vigil. It was a night filled with tradition. We had the same soup and food. We waited until the dishes were washed before we got around to opening presents. My one cousin was the one to hand everything out. We waited for that moment we all knew was coming when one of my cousins would open her gift only to find it was a new set of underwear – she got the same gift from her mom every year. We would all chuckle and comment. Then we would walk home and try to rest before the shepherd’s Holy Mass at midnight. Those dinners and the gift of underwear have changed.

Our memories are filled with experiences we thought would never change. Instinct, intellect, and common sense were disregarded because we were so sure they would never end. This will happen, be repeated, year after year.

In the Christmas proclamation we hear that Jesus was born 5,199 years after the foundation of the world. Consider a world caught up in the expected for thousands of years. The children of Israel hoped for the Messiah, but I am pretty sure they set most of that hope aside –nothing is going to change.

Then, suddenly, the heavenly host appears. The angel proclaims the news: “a savior has been born for you who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Savior has a particular meaning. The Messiah is to be the Rescuer. The Savior is indeed the Rescuer. He will pull us up out of trouble. He rescues us from sin, from hopelessness, and most of all from the expected.

The world stood in silence waiting and suddenly everything changed. The unexpected happened. The Messiah – not a civil ruler and army commander – but God’s only Son made flesh and blood. He is God as child, as baby, coming in the poorest of conditions. He is God Who wipes away all separation. He is God who reaches out to us. We need not plead, we need do nothing, for He did it all for us. Wherever we are, whatever we expect, the one sure unchanging things one our list is God who rescued us, God Who always delivers unexpected love. Do not be afraid – be sure of Him.

No
fear!

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.

One hundred ten years ago our Church gathered in Holy Synod. As a fledgling organization its members had faced persecution. Real persecution based on faith right here in the United States. Our members were cast out of social clubs. Jobs were lost. Families were split. There was hurt and sadness. The reaction of those Synod attendees was to focus on the words of Jesus – what one does speaks far louder than abiding by rules, then holy words and prayers. They instituted this Solemnity with its special focus on brotherly love; the only Church that has such a day. They cast out fear with love.

St. John, the disciple Jesus loved could have stood on those credentials – hey look at me, I’m the one He loved. He could have offered words, gave speeches. Instead he focused on putting Jesus’ love for us into action in his life and in our lives. He tells us: The commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. What one does speaks far louder than abiding by rules, then holy words and prayers. St. John and his church communities cast out the fear of persecution and stood above it in Jesus’ love.

As we gather today for worship we are reminded that coming here once a week is not enough. This place, this worship, the words we hear, and the prayers we offer are a capstone for what we have done right in our loving others over the past week. We should rightly be thankful for the graces we received that helped us do that. We should be proud of the ways we cast out fear and responded in love.

So too our gathering today is a recollection of where we have fallen short with a plea for forgiveness. While falling short is painful, we can find joy in knowing that our consciences are well formed enough to know we failed. In acknowledging our sin we find the pain it has imprinted lifted by God’s healing touch. We see our fears and pain relieved in God’s love.

Our gathering today is moreover a new start. A new week ahead and we hear: there is no fear in love. Next week we will gather again to be thankful, to recollect, and to start anew. Through all of it what is reinforced is fear removed, love triumphant.

In writing to the Romans, Paul asks: what will separate us from the love of Christ? He lists many things – but no fear will do it. On this Solemnity of Love, on this anniversary of a tragedy meant to instill fear, remember that nothing is more powerful than love. Destroy fear. Our members did it 110 years ago. St. John did it. We get to do it every week – no fear because in Him there is no fear.

Witnessing to Jesus
without fear.

When the captain and the court officers had brought the apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name? Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.” The Sanhedrin ordered the apostles to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them.

Last week we heard of John’s witness. His witness to new life in Jesus was recorded near the very end of the apostolic era. Today we see a glimpse into the beginning of that era.

The apostles had recently experienced the infusion of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. They never asked – What was that? The first thing they did was to stand on a balcony and proclaim the coming, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. They spent the weeks and months ahead preaching, not to gather followers, but to share the saving work of Jesus. They wanted everyone to know about God’s wonderful gift of freedom and Jesus’s glorious gift of friendship, the very same friendship He offered to them at the seashore. The apostles did not preach themselves as some sort of new leadership. They did not point to themselves as having anything to offer – they offered what they had – their witness to Jesus Christ crucified, raised, and ascended.

Today we will welcome Vincent John into the family of Christ. What we hope and pray is that in his life he will see each of us witness strongly to Jesus crucified, raised, and ascended. Hopefully, he will never see any one of us putting ourselves before the proclamation of Jesus. Hopefully, he will see and find in the Church his new and eternal family. Hopefully, he too will take up the mantle of witness so that his children and his children’s children will know Jesus as friend and savior – the One Who offers complete freedom.

Together with Vincent we have this great opportunity, but it comes with what might be seen as a problem… Jesus’ witnesses will not go without worldly assault. There is a cost to accepting Jesus. This arrest marks the third time they had been apprehended. Soon Stephen would be chosen, would proclaim and witness, would be arrested and would be martyred. The apostles’ greatest witness is that opportunity in Jesus is greater than any challenge. It is why they lived fearless lives.

Vincent, as we have all done, takes on the opportunity and challenge. His is the call to witness to the promise of God’s friendship and freedom, which is greater than any fear. That is the real glory isn’t it? The reward is that all of us have complete power and assurance in Christ. No fear in us because of Him. Ours is fearless life forever!