Scary Good News

Sermon preached at Warrenton Presbyterian Church on the Third Sunday of Advent. 

Luke 2: 8-20

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

***

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast to bring you this breaking news… 

I don’t know about you, but just hearing those words makes my anxiety level spike. Maybe it’s because the first time I really remember hearing them was on 9/11. You may remember the news being interrupted for the Kennedy assassination, or Martin Luther King’s. More recently, our nightly news has been interrupted for earthquakes. Floods. Bombings. Shootings, shootings, and more shootings.

These breaking news stories disrupt our lives of comfort and safety. They force us to confront the sin of the world—how little human lives seem to matter in comparison to ideology, how one day can take away everything we’ve worked for, how much people are suffering while we go about our daily routine. One minute, you’re making dinner, checking the sports scores, planning your errands for tomorrow—the next, you’re glued to the TV screen, shaking and wondering how it all got this bad.

And it seems—sadly, that it takes something big to make us take notice. People are shot every day, all over America, but it takes a mass shooting to grab my attention. And as the mass shootings pile up, I’m horrified to discover I’m starting to build up a tolerance—that it’s hard to distinguish one mass shooting from the other, hard to feel sorrow for the lives lost again and again and again.

It is small comfort, but we are not the first people to be on intimate terms with bad news. The shepherds from our passage today knew about bad news, too. We often tend to romanticize the shepherds, out there under the stars with their fluffy sheep; I know I remember fondly my days wearing my dad’s bathrobe for the children’s Christmas pageant. But the shepherds, like all the people of Judea, were used to bad news. On the home front, they knew that wolves were lurking in the forests; they knew that only luck of the harvest stood between them and starvation; they knew that their politicians were corrupt lackeys for Rome; they knew that the Roman army could come in and obliterate them anytime they chose. Bad news on all fronts.

And so I don’t blame them, when the heavens break open and the angel appears and God’s glory lights up the night, that they are terrified.

But the angel—doing his best Walter Cronkite, I imagine—the angel says “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news!”

Good news? Good news?
That’s almost more shocking than bad news. What good news could there be?

And the answer comes back: “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Good news of great joy indeed—a Savior for us, a Deliverer, a King! Peace on earth at last!

This child heralded the coming of the gospel—a gospel of great joy, of peace on earth, of hope for God’s kingdom coming here, of God’s great love coming to rest in us. A gospel of healing, of abundance, of grace. A gospel of the powerless being lifted up and the powerful brought down, so that everyone might look each other in the eye and see God’s image there. A gospel of life being stronger and truer and more lasting than death. A gospel of our salvation—a gospel that God is holding us in God’s hand, and will not let us go, no matter what.

As my teenage friends would say, that’s crazy good news. Scary good news.

Scary, because this good news is just as disruptive as the bad. Scary, because this good news means turning the world inside out. Scary, because this news means our lives are going to change.

Several of my friends have had babies this month, and judging by their Facebook feeds, their lives have been totally disrupted. Their little bundles of great joy are turning their lives inside out. 2AM feedings, panic over the sniffles, jealous older siblings, the whole shebang. One of my friends even sent over some earplugs and a six pack of beer to her apartment neighbors, because babies will disrupt the lives of everyone within earshot.

So it’s fitting that the good news came to us as a baby. The good news came as something we need to nourish and watch over and help grow. The good news came as something to love. The good news came as weak and frail, yet miraculous. The good news came as a disruptive influence.

What if we who bear the gospel spent a little more time being a disruptive influence ourselves? What if we were a little less committed to the status quo and a little more willing to share some of that breaking good news?

What if we all put on our angel voices, our Cronkite voices, and went out into the world and said: We interrupt your daily lives to bring you this breaking news… to you is born this day a Savior; to you is born this day a healer; to you is born this day a peacemaker; to you is born this day the gift of Love that will not let you go.

What if we looked at the hungry family and said good news! There is food for you.

What if we looked at the grieving friend and said good news! There is comfort for you.

What if we looked at the lonely ones in our community and said good news! There is fellowship for you, and you might even find it here, at Warrenton Presbyterian Church.

What if we kicked and fussed and cried, infant-like, until everybody got fed, everybody got held, everybody cared for?

It would be a little scary, to put ourselves out there. It might get a little awkward. It would take some time, some energy, some disruption to our own daily lives and schedules.

After all, the shepherds had to leave their flocks to seek out Jesus, leave their sheep vulnerable to wolves and themselves to unemployment, disrupt all their expectations of how the night was going to go, to seek out a baby in Bethlehem.

And because they were willing to drop everything and go, they got to share in Christ’s first sacred night on this earth.

So let us interrupt the world when it says fear the future. Let us interrupt the world when it says hate the stranger. Let us interrupt the world when it says grab as much for yourself as you can. Let us interrupt the world when it says the news is all bad, all the time.

Let us share the breaking news: there is good news of great joy for all the people!

In the name of the One who came and is coming still, Amen.

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