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Dear Firefighter: A Christmas Sermon

Welcome to St. Paul’s Chapel, to this place the mayor at Yankee Stadium called a miracle. This chapel continues to be a miracle, as it bespeaks the words, prayers, and affections of people from all over the world.

Pretend something like this happened for a moment: The angel got back to heaven and rushed up to God and said, “I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news.”

And God said, “Well, give me the good news first.”

“The good news is,” said the angel, “mission accomplished. I’ve visited those people you told me to visit. I told them what you told me to tell them. And it’s all accomplished.”

God said, “So what’s the bad news?”

“The bad news is that those people down there on earth are terrified of you. Every time I visited someone I had to start it off with ‘fear not,’ because they got so frightened that you were coming close.”

God said to the angel, “That’s the reason I have to carry out the plan I’ve made.”

“You see,” he said to the angel, “I need to go to earth because my people are so frightened. They are so full of fear that I’ve got to bring the message that they no longer need to be afraid.”

The angel said, “And how are you going to do that, since they’re so fearful?”

“God said, there’s one place on earth that people are not afraid: that one remaining place is a little baby. My people on earth are not afraid of a baby. When a baby is born they rejoice and give thanks without fear because that’s the only place left in their lives where they're not afraid. So I will go to earth. I will become a little baby, and they will receive me with no fear at all, because that’s the one place my people have no fear.”

You and I are a people full of fear. We don’t like to admit it. But we’re constantly afraid. We’re afraid of all sorts of things. We couldn’t even begin to name them, all those things that fill us with fear -- so many we don’t even recognize we’re living with all those fears.

As a matter of fact we have delivered to us a fear sheet. No, we call it the newspaper. But it comes in every morning and it reminds us of those things that happened yesterday that we didn’t know we had to be afraid of.

Fear is such an important part of our culture that you and I don’t even stop and think about it.

Fear haunts us.

That’s what Christmas is all about: God coming into our world to say to us, in a way that we can hear, that we don’t need to be afraid. That those things about which we’re afraid all wind up leading toward the fear of death, and God took away the ultimate consequence of death, and will make us his, alive again in his heavenly kingdom.

So fear has no more dominion over us. And it begins tonight with the recognition that God came to live with us, to free us from our fears and the worst fear of all, the fear of death.

On these walls are all sorts of things: cards, letters, drawings from children, poems,artwork, it’s all right here. I’ll read to you one that’s on the wall right now. This is from a young girl:

Dear Firefighter: There are many deaths that I can die. Cancer, heart attack, AIDS, hepatitis, leukemia, natural causes, choking, being strangled, shot, or hanged. I could get the death penalty, rabies, or a snake bite, or a wild animal could attack me. I could get run over by a car, be in a car crash, fall, slip, get a concussion, get smallpox, or be stabbed, cracking my skull, get poisoned, heart disease, get stung by too many bees, and many more. But I know that I will never ever die in a fire because people like you, great people, would go into flames to save an ordinary person like me, and that's what makes you so great, courageous, brave, terrific, wonderful, special people.

This young girl, eleven years old, knows what it is to be afraid. It’s almost humorous that she could list all those things...and many more. Her mind is full of all the things she needs to fear, and she’s just a young child.

But she also knows a savior when she sees one: the policemen, the firemen, the rescue workers. They’re saviors to her, and she recognizes this. And she recognizes that she’s free from death by a fire.

You and I this Christmas need to recognize that we’re free from death, and free from fears that won’t realize us. We’re free by virtue of what happened this night 2000 years ago.

Thank you God for giving yourself through the birth of Jesus. The very name Jesus translated means Savior.

He saves us from our fears. And for those of us in this great city we love and adore, this Christmas is our most important ever, for we need to be saved from our fears. May we give thanks in a new and fresh way for this holiest of nights as we give thanks for release from our fears.

Amen.

This sermon is slightly adapted from the one preached by the Rev. Dr. Daniel Paul Matthews, rector of Trinity Church, on Christmas Eve, 2001, at St. Paul’s Chapel, New York City.

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