Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come, follow me: and I will give you rest.
During these days of Advent – we are being called – we are being invited to journey to Bethlehem joyful and triumphant!
But there are many things that can rob us of our sense of triumph and take away our sense of joy: Worry and fear are two of these things.
The German word for worry means “to strangle.” And the Greek word means to “divide the mind.” Both are accurate. Worry is a noose around our necks and a distraction of the mind – neither of which is very conducive for joy.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus told us so many times in the Gospels: do not be afraid! Although as someone much brighter than I said:
Worries and tensions in one’s life are like birds – we can’t stop them from flying near us – but we can certainly stop them from making a nest in our minds and hearts. . .
Worry and fear our reactions --- to put them behind us we must chose to be bold and courageous.
How do we go about doing that???
And now you must forgive me for this very poor imitation of James Earl Jones, or someone else with a very deep voice, making an ancient version of a movie trailer – enticing us to read the Gospel of Luke:
In a world filled with fear and torn by strife and discord, comes a man – born to elderly parents who had given up all hope of having a child.
A man: whose father is told by the angel Gabriel that he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.
A man who will go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of parents toward their children--
and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous – to prepare a people fit for the Lord.
A man who will lose his life – as well as his head – for the sake of the kingdom of God.
And the man’s name is. . . . JOHN.
John the Baptist is a big guy in the Gospel of Luke – mentioned 23 times.
John – who is born six months before Jesus – and the first on the scene in Judea proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
What a message for the ears of those who are suffering and stewing in their faults and failings --- and what a message to the Jewish authorities who think they have control over who is in--- and who is out of favor with the lords of the Temple –
but not necessarily, to their surprise – out of favor with the lord of the Universe.
John is the ultimate and extreme warm up act – and spends his whole life pointing NOT to himself – but to Jesus.
To be effective in his ministry, John the Baptist – must be bold, and fearless, and courageous --- and without worry of the results or the repercussions that come from his message. John challenges us to discern what is of value so that we can proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God.
I suspect that John knew well that worry and fear are two things that can so easily keep us, or anyone else, from being the bold witnesses of the Gospel that we are all called to be. . . being Debbie Downers and worry warts – instead of being JOYFUL and TRIUMPHANT.
So how do we make that choice of being joyful when there is so much strife and discord in the world around us – so much to fear and worry about?
I think one way, and perhaps the only way --- is to remember that we are not in this alone --- Yes, Jesus tells us many times in the Gospels to not be afraid. . .But Jesus also tells us:
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened – and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me – for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves for my yoke is easy, and my burden light. [Matthew 11: 28-30]
We are not in this alone: we are to yoke ourselves to Christ – allow Jesus to will lead and guide us on our journey of life. For no matter what we face, or how far we stray: God will bring us back – borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones if we have Jesus at our side.
Each Sunday, after we say together the Our Father – asking God’s kingdom to come and God’s will be done in our lives – I say this prayer on behalf of us all:
Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin,
and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
I don’t know about you – but I need that prayer – and I need to have faith enough to live that prayer.
I need, and I am going to be so bold as to assume that you also need --- to be delivered from all evil and kept safe from all distress – through the mercy and grace of God –
so that you and I can always leave this place and go out and be as bold as John the Baptist, joyful and triumphant --- in proclaiming the kingdom of God.
I need that prayer – because it is so easy to be fearful in our world that can be such a cold and cruel, divisive and self-centered --- place.
I need that prayer because in making decisions I’m often too worried about what other people are going to think or say – when I’m trying my best to put into practice the love, mercy and forgiveness of God – so that all may give glory and praise to God.
I need that prayer, and I am so bold as to assume that you need it to --- so that we can be free from worry and fear and all the other things that hold us back so that we can be filled with JOY – and allow the Lord to do great things – in us-- and through-- and with us.
My sisters and brothers – why should we be fearful – why should we have worries or doubts – why should we not feel triumphant ---
because we believe in a God that can command every lofty mountain to be made low – and the age-old depths and gorges to be filled to level ground – so that we, God’s chosen people --- so that we – can advance securely in the glory of God – so that we – can be led in joy by the light of God’s glory – with mercy and justice for our company.
So that we – can be joyful and triumphant when we leave this place – and allow others to see the salvation of God – working in us---- through us--- and with us.
Moments in time...