Pastor’s Message December 23rd, 2018

Our upcoming celebration of Christmas can be summed up in a verse from a Christmas carol called, O Little Town of Bethlehem, that says, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in you tonight.” That carol was first sung in a church in Philadelphia – Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square. It’s a favorite of mine, not just because it originated in my hometown, but because, as a child, it seemed as if we waited all year for Christmas Day to come. There really was something special about this day, captured in the words of the song, that gave us reason to look forward to more than presents under the Christmas tree. Whatever our hopes and fears may have been during the past year, on Christmas our hope should be strengthened and our fears lessened, because that is the very purpose of Christ’s coming into the world: so that our hope in God would be fulfilled and our fear be transformed into hope.   
    Then, there’s the town of Bethlehem, which in Hebrew literally means “house of bread.” We’re reminded that the Word becomes flesh in a very real and powerful way each time we celebrate the Eucharist, for He comes to us in His Body and His blood. By our partaking of this great gift of His love, we welcome His light into the dark places of our hearts, pointing out the way for us to follow Him. In this Bread of Life for our life, we’re nourished and strengthened for the journey that lies ahead, and with that strength from on high, we have great confidence that no matter how challenging the circumstances may be or how dark the future may seem, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” and the darkness will not overcome it.  
   So, one of the main messages of this Advent season of preparation for Christmas is that God had not forgotten his people. Like the people of the Old Testament, we may often be tempted to imagine that God has abandoned us. But the prophet Isaiah tells the people that no longer shall they be “forsaken,” no longer shall they be forgotten, no longer will their land be “desolate.” Rather, God will call his people his “delight” and will rejoice in them. These are the words that God speaks to us and wants us to hear sincerely.  
    If ever we have felt forsaken, if we have felt forgotten, God tells us that we are not forsaken; He tells us that He has never forgotten us. Not only does He tell us this, but He shows us that we are not forgotten. He has proven this by sending us a Savior to live among us and to show us the way to salvation by saving us from our sins. Saint Paul is constantly reminding us, especially in his Letter to the Romans, that Jesus is proclaimed to all nations, including the pagans. We are part of the new inheritance, invited to be brothers and sisters of Jesus and therefore heirs to the kingdom of God.  
    At the Annunciation of the upcoming birth of Christ, the message given to Mary is that we are called to the obedience of faith, saying “yes” to God as Mary did in response to the message of the angel. When those words were spoken to Mary, and later to Joseph, their fears were transformed into hope.
  We can see this transformation in the person of St. Joseph, who faced an uncertain future when it was discovered that Mary was with child before they lived together. His fears for the future even led him to consider ending his engagement to Mary. Yet, in the midst of his fears, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him four words that would change everything, the same four words that were spoken to Mary when the angel Gabriel announced that she would give birth to Jesus: “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” It became clear to Joseph that God had not forgotten him. A further sign would be given to him by the birth of a child by the Virgin Mary, and he was told that the name given to this child would be Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins. That is the meaning of the name Jesus: in Hebrew it means, “God saves.”  
   That is why our fears are transformed into hope, for in Advent just before celebrating Christmas, the very same words that Joseph and Mary heard from the angel are the very same words that are spoken to us today, “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” Allow the Lord to transform your fears into hope. Those who hope in the Lord will not be disappointed. Christmas reminds us that God, in Jesus, is present in our midst. This, then, is the hope that belongs to Jesus’ call: to be with him forever in his kingdom!