Do not lose Hope. Do not be afraid. Perhaps a bizarre way to begin a Christmas message but it has been a season of pain and loss; personally and for many that I have had the opportunity to support on their journey. Even in our news feeds there is no shortage of stories of pain, loss, and injustice. The reality is for many, the Christmas season is not-so-merry and bright. In fact, it can be damn dark.
With this in mind I have been reflecting on the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. I was struck by how many times in the first chapters of Luke it says "Do not be afraid." Zachariah, Mary, and the Shepherds were visited by angels announcing the good news of Jesus' birth with the encouragement to not be afraid.
Matthews gospel tells the story of the wise men who followed a mysterious star which led them to the Christ Child. Even in the darkness of night the star provided a sense of direction, a unique point of light to guide them. This star was a light in the darkness and a sign of the new-born Light of the World.
At Christmas we celebrate the gift of God to humankind - Jesus. The dawning of a new day in the long, dark night of history for the people of Israel (and all people). For centuries, Israel had awaited the promised Messiah, who would rescue her from captivity and restore her to a great nation. Their stories of hope and promise were not just for some future deliverance., they also inspired perseverance and courage in the midst of some pretty horrific circumstances. The announcement of the angels was the now-present fulfillment of their hope, the encouragement that they need not be afraid anymore as their hope was being fulfilled. The symbol of the star in the night sky served as a beacon of the hope for Israel becoming tangible in their Messiah - Jesus. The good news that He loves us and is at work in His good creation as a gift for reconciliation, healing and eternal hope. Hope not only in the eternal but the present, even with all its struggles. A gift that declares the God-who-loves is for us! And that nothing can separate us from this embrace of divine love!
Maybe this Christmas is an especially tough one for you. Maybe you have been battling life and circumstances for a long time. Maybe you are struggling with the loss of a loved one, mourning the loss of a relationship, loss of a job or poor health - there is good news for you too this Christmas. Do not be afraid! Don't give up hope! The God-who-loves has good news for you. This pain and angst you are experiencing will not last forever, but in the meantime you are not alone. With each sigh, with each anxious breath, your Saviour has come and is closer to you than you may know. The signs are everywhere, and in the night time of whatever you are walking through, there is a light that will lead you through - the light that overcomes the darkness.
All this being said, sometimes we need help walking through dark seasons. Sometimes those stars in the night sky and the angels of hope can come in the form of everyday people. A gift of God can often be a faithful, forgiving friend who listens, encourages and supports you. Sometimes, a gift from God is a trained professional to help you navigate through the holiday season.
However you find yourself this Christmas season, I encourage you with the hope of the Good News Himself - Jesus the Christ. Do not be afraid!