Welcome to worship for this 4th Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2022! We’re at the end of Advent, which means that Christmas is just around the corner! We’ll have our regular Christmas Eve Candlelight service, of course on the 24th starting at 7pm, and with Christmas on a Sunday this year, our Christmas Day Communion service will be taking place of our regular Sunday worship. Both will be livestreamed and linked on this site as with all of our services.
But for this particular service, the worship bulletin can be found here. You can download and follow along with that, or just use the words that will conveniently be on your screen. The sermon is also included on this page below the worship video.
If you’d like a more full worship experience online, you can have a lit candle from the beginning of the service and extinguish it at the end with the altar candles after the sending hymn. And if you want to participate in communion, you can do so by having something small to eat and drink nearby, and consume them at the appropriate time as instructed during the service.
May God’s strength and abundant peace be upon you this day and forevermore!
As your Spirit spoke to Mary and Joseph, O God, may your Spirit speak to us, fill us with your truth and the confidence in your promises, and bring us all into peace, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
There are a lot of fears in the world, aren’t there? At least, I feel like there are a lot of things that I’m afraid of. It doesn’t help that my parents came to Canada during a very different time in our history and thus instilled in their children a real suspicion of people, which probably developed into some sort of general paranoia. But the fears that I face aren’t really your typical ones, like I’m not afraid of roller coasters like my wife is, I’m not afraid of loud noises like my kids are, and I’m not afraid of driving in the snow like my mother-in-law is. I’m not saying that I’m super brave or anything, but just that these particular things aren’t that scary to me.
But there are other fears that I have that might not be shared by everyone, but oh boy can they be debilitating. Like I’m afraid of being alone, I’m scared of failing or being labelled a failure, and I have a real fear of just not being good enough and not living up to the expectation that’s put on me. You’d know all this if you’ve been paying attention in my sermons, I’m pretty open about it as it’s been something that has really plagued me since I was young.
I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve avoided various gatherings, projects, or even just talking to someone because of these fears. Like I don’t often go to social events when I’m not 100% sure that I’ll already know someone there because I don’t want to be there alone. I try not to take on any task that is too big for the real possibility that I’ll fail at it. I don’t often put myself out there because I’m really afraid of just not being good enough and people would scoff and be like, “what a putz.” Interestingly enough, these are the three fears that kept me from going to seminary all those years ago, fears that I was eventually able to temporarily put aside to go and be shaped to be this exemplary pastor that you see before you today. But it really was only temporary as those fears kept creeping up in the other areas of my life.
You know, there’s a saying, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Which is totally true, because I’m afraid of fear as well. But fear, in the speech that made this saying popular by President Roosevelt, is defined as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes…” and that’s where I scratch my head a little, because I wouldn’t say my fears are nameless, I mean I know what they are and like I said I’m pretty open about them. I wouldn’t say they’re unreasonable, as those things that I’m afraid of pretty scary, almost like they’re designed specifically to instill fear… so mission accomplished *thumbup*. Also, I definitely wouldn’t say that my fears are unjustified, they’re totally justified because I hate being alone, I hate failing, and I hate it when I feel like I’m not good enough. That sounds pretty justifiable to me.
And so maybe what I need when times get tough and these fears creep up and begin their debilitating work on my psyche, is for an angel to come and tell me not to be afraid, like how one came to Joseph in a dream during his difficult time. Poor Joseph here has a lot to be afraid of as well, his betrothed is found to be with child possibly before they’ve even met, his reputation as a husband and a God-fearing Jew could be on the line, and he’s having these inexplicable delusional dreams of angels telling him what to do.
I wonder what this must have been like for Joseph.
“Do not be afraid” Joseph is told. But that is easier said than done, nameless apparition that came in a dream at one of the worst points of life thus far.
“Do not be afraid” it says. Perhaps it’d be better for this so-called angel to act as a guardian and take away all the things that we have to be afraid of, maybe?
“Do not be afraid.” These words don’t really come as a comfort whatsoever, because it’s not like we can just turn off our fears without any kind of assurances that we needn’t be afraid anymore.
And maybe this angel knew this. Maybe this messenger sent by God was aware of Joseph’s fears and knew what to do and say in order to quell them. Maybe this angel entered Joseph’s life at this very fearful time, and brought words of assurance and peace.
This angel tells Joseph, not in so many words, that his fears are but human fears. Things are not as they seem. Through all this confusion, anxiety, and uncertainty, God is with us, even in this illegitimate child that threatens to change Joseph’s life forever, as this baby literally is God with us.
But it’s still tough, isn’t it? It’s still scary stuff. It’s still easier said than done, because we don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know what might happen. We don’t know what people will say about us or how we’ll feel about ourselves even. We don’t know how our fears would be realised.
So I’m guessing that Joseph was still really scared. I mean I know I would be. This whole raising this child who will change the world is really the culmination of all those fears that I mentioned that I have. But somehow Joseph goes through with it anyway. He steps up. In spite of the debilitating fears, Joseph answers God’s call and acts out of faith.
Then the question isn’t so much what fears are present, but how we can act even within those fears. It’s not about whether or not we can get past our fears, but how much we might recognise God with us in the midst of them. It isn’t that the fears need to be taken away to allow us to function, but the amount of peace we receive in spite of them.
And thanks be to God, we are given peace in abundance, so much so that it surpasses all understanding.
So yes, I admit that I’m still afraid of all those things that I mentioned earlier. I admit that I still find them debilitating and times and I avoid situations where I may have to face them. I admit that the call to “be not afraid” falls on totally deaf ears on my part. But our courage doesn’t lie in those fears being lifted. Our boldness isn’t in our enemies be smote or the things we’re afraid of being destroyed. Our hope doesn’t depend so much on us not being afraid, but in the peace found in God’s promises, reminding us that nothing can remove us from God’s kingdom, community, and love.
And I don’t know what can remind us of the promise of God with us more than a living, tangible, human being, one that shows us love, care, and companionship. This doesn’t have to be the actual Christ child in our case like it was for Joseph, but it could be our own children, our parents, our spouses, siblings, or friends. It could even be members of our church community both here in this place and beyond.
So I’ve learned that even when I’m not with anyone that I know, I’m not actually alone. I’ve come to see that even when I feel like a failure, it does not forfeit me from God’s promises to me and all people. I’ve been moved to accept the fact that when it seems like I’m not good enough, God’s grace and love continues to be given to me and all of you, reminding me that I’m recreated and reformed to be good enough and a very welcome part of God’s family and the body of Christ.
This is true for all of us, that while we might all have different fears that hold us back, God fills us with the peace in knowing that there is nothing that has ever been created that can snatch us from the hand of God, the one that holds us all dear and lifts us up out of our ailments and brings us into joy and hope of God’s unending and abundant love shared with all people for all time, declaring us as God’s children.
So as we come to the end of this season of Advent, may we continue in our hope of peace, that we might be lifted out of our fears and brought into the love and joy of the Christ child that has come to us as one of us, welcoming us as siblings together moving and acting for the sake of the good news of God’s promises in the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.