Fear Not! Lay Down the Security Blanket.
Luke 2:1-18 December 24, 2019
Rev. David J. Clark
Before Hallmark Christmas movies, before National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Elf, or I grew up learning about Christmas from the classic animated and Claymation shows: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Grinch who Stole Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy and the one that does the best job of actually saying something about Jesus’ birth, Pastor Susie’s favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas Special.
If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, in the Charlie Brown special we find Charlie Brown depressed despite at the onset of the cheerful holiday season. He seeks psychiatric help, Lucy suggests he direct a neighborhood Christmas play, but his best efforts are mocked by his peers. He grows frustrated by their meanness and lack of appreciation of the real Christmas spirit. When his friends ridicule him for his puny Christmas tree selection he asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Charlie Brown’s buddy, Linus, steps into the spotlight to tell the story. He recites, from memory, the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke. While telling the story the animators put in something so subtle that I had never noticed it until someone pointed it out to me. As Linus speaks the line, “Fear not!” he releases his grip on his security blanket and it falls to the floor.
For Linus, it’s a big deal, that security blanket. Linus can’t go anywhere without it. It is his comfort. It is something tangible he can hold and take with him wherever he goes. He’s just a little kid and that blanket symbolizes something he reaches for to give him comfort when he is afraid. As he announces the birth of Jesus, he lets it go.
As the gospel of Luke tells the story of the birth of Jesus, there are three “Fear nots!” from the angels. First to Zechariah as the angel told him he was going to have a son, John. Then to Mary, as the angel told her she had found favor with God. And then the shepherds who are the first to receive the birth announcement. Somehow one of the fundamental messages of Christmas has always been that it’s okay to lay down our blankets. Fear not.
Some psychologists tell us that there are four basic kinds of fears. 1. The fear of loss—we fear that we will lose someone close to us, an ability we have, losing a job, our possessions. 2. We fear failure. What if I start a business and if fails? What if I put myself out there and my efforts flop and I get more disappointed than if I’d never tried? What if my kids don’t get turned around 3. Fear of rejection—people would never like me if they really knew me, if they knew what I really thought or did in my past. They would reject me for it. 4. Fear of the unknown. What if the economy gets worse? What if there is a disaster? What if I get an awful disease? What if it’s too late for the environment?
We all have our blankets–things we reach for because we are afraid. We reach for products that help us feel relevant, successful, connected, powerful because we are insecure, afraid. How many times have you overreached, acted out of fear? Overachievement, over-work? Shopping? A bank account? Numbing out in front of a screen.
Fear is like a toddler. He may he be in your vehicle of emotions as you head down life’s highway, but you shouldn’t let him drive. That is don’t let fear be the primary motivator of any of your actions or attitudes. When fear drives it never turns out well.
This Christmas, what fears do you need to lay down? Maybe they are deep personal fears about your health, your family, your safety, or your future. Maybe they are fears about how other people are going to feel if you do something your really want to do. Maybe you fear for our environment, our nation, or the most vulnerable. Are your fears keeping you from trusting God?
- When fear determines our response to our neighbor – we need to lay it down.
- When fear keeps us from taking risks that bring forth our best-selves, to create the lives we are meant to have–we need to lay it down.
- When fear causes us to be concerned only for our own well-being – we need to lay it down.
- When fear paralyzes us indecision – we need to lay it down.
- When fear keeps us from practicing generosity and hospitality – we need to lay it down.
- When fear causes us to hate whole groups of people – we need to lay it down.
When the angels say, “Fear not!” they are reminding us that we cannot allow our view of the world to be defined by fear – we cannot allow fear to keep us from loving our neighbor and following Jesus command to love our enemies. We cannot allow fear to keep us from pursuing justice for all. We can’t allow fear to divide the human family. We can’t allow fear to keep us from the good news lying in a manger.
To the fearful, angels come and say, “Fear not!” It is time to grow up – trust God – and follow the lead of the one whose birth we celebrate tonight. Everywhere we look there is a narrative of fear. Politicians play on it. Advertisers play on it. Our critics play on it. Especially your self critic. But the gospel story is not a narrative of fear – it is a narrative of hope breaking into a fearful world. The story of Christmas has always been about one thing: God is with us. You shall call him Emmanuel, which means God with us. There is no separation between God and creation. No separation between God and you. God’s got you.
Play out your fears to their conclusion. If this happens, I’ll be a wreck. No matter even if the worst happens there is still something God can do.
This eternal Word leapt down and took its abiding place on earth. Linus has it exactly right – this IS what Christmas is all about. This amazing good news of great joy – this magnificent story of hope and incarnation points to the one we choose to follow – as if to scream “Over here – this is the way! Follow him! He’ll lead you to peace and life!” He will show you the perfect love that casts out fear and helps you to actualize that union with the divine in your own spirit!
Christmas is about laying down our fears stop trusting in our security blankets and trust in the one who created us and loves us and holds us. We can lay down our fears and pick up the things that can really help us get to the place where we want to be. When you put into practice the things he taught us, love and forgiveness and inner peace grow and our fears become manageable. It comes about by choosing again to follow the way of God, made flesh in Jesus:
The way of worship and praise.
The way of hope
The way of peace
The way of joy
The way of love
The way of compassion
The way of hospitality
The way of generosity
The way of service
The way of sacrifice
The way of service
The way of justice
The way that binds us to one another as one human family.
It’s a big deal for Linus to drop his blanket at the words “fear not” – even if it is just symbolic. It is as if the whole story hinges upon those words two words—perhaps it does.
There is something pure, good in this world. The Spirit of Christ. Who showed us a better way—the way of love that casts out fear.