So did you hear it?  Did your ears happen to catch the sound of it when it happened on Sunday, November 5, around 11:00 am?  Of course, if you were in church at that time you couldn’t possibly have heard it…but then again, maybe you could have because it was pretty loud.  I’m sure you have no idea what in the world I’m talking about, so I guess I’d better tell you.  It was the very loud sigh of relief that yours truly breathed when he sat down after preaching the sermon for his home congregation’s 170th anniversary.  Though I’ve delivered well over 2000 sermons in my 36+ years of ministry, I can honestly say that none of them has caused me greater anxiety and more sleep deprivation than this one. Why?  Four words: FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN.

I just wasn’t sure what to expect that day.  I knew it was going to be a big deal…and it was.  And rightfully so. Zion Lutheran Church, Staunton, Illinois officially became a congrega-tion of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod the same year our church body became the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.  So there was a special order of worship featuring the children’s choir from their parochial school – the same school I attended through all 8 years of grade school.  There was a small orchestra of sorts in the balcony that led the hymns we sang.  And what powerful hymns they were: “Praise to the Lord the Almighty;” “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name;” “The Church’s One Foundation;” “How Great Thou Art;” “For All the Saints;” and others.  And boy, could that congregation sing!

But there were other unknowns.  I wondered who would be there.  My brother and sister had been to Staunton over the past few months and they said that all of their friends were saying that they were going to be coming.  I’m sure that not all of them made it, but many of them did.  When we had our cousins’ reunion back in September and they found out about it they said they were going to come.  I really didn’t think they would, but 20 minutes before the service, they walked in.  I figured some of my classmates that I went to school with for my 8 years at Zion would show up and 8 of the 12 besides me were there.  I saw lots of white-haired elderly people who remembered me from when I was a little tyke.  Even my Biology teacher from high school showed up.

Still there were other unknowns that rattled my nerves leading up to the big event.  I couldn’t remember how big the pulpit was and how much freedom I would have to move around (it was big enough and I had plenty of room).  I wondered what kind of microphone I would be wearing, hoping it wouldn’t be one of those headsets that you wear behind your ear (as things turned out I didn’t even wear a mike as they had an excellent stationary one in the pulpit).  I even wondered how big the part of the pulpit was that holds the pastor’s sermon (some are very big like ours while others are actually quite small; this one was just right).  I wondered how dry my mouth would get when I preached because the 2 previous times I preached there I had cotton mouth worse that I’ve ever had it before.

Fear of the unknown…it can cripple a person with anxiety; it can overwhelm a person with stress; it can wake a person up in the middle of the night and rob them of much-needed sleep.

I have a sneaky suspicion that it did all of those things and much more for Mary and Joseph that first Christmas.  Talk about fear of the unknown!  Here, Mary gets visited by an angel who tells her she has been hand-picked by God to deliver His Son, the long-awaited Messiah, to the world.  Since she is engaged to be married to Joseph, she faces the unknown of what his reaction will be when she breaks the news to him because he’ll know that he’s definitely not the father.

Then when Joseph finally accepts Mary’s story, thanks to a little divine intervention, word reaches them in Nazareth that Caesar Augustus has ordered a census and now they’ve got to make the long trip to Bethlehem, their family’s place of origin, to register for it.  With Mary getting quite large due to the growing child within her, they face other unknowns: What kind of effect will this lengthy journey have on Mary and her baby?  What if they get to Bethlehem and she goes into labor?  What if she goes into labor on the way to Bethlehem?  Where will they stay when they get there?  And what about this baby?  What will He look like since He has no earthly father?  What will it be like to raise the Son of God?  I can’t help but feel that even though Mary and Joseph had moments when they both displayed considerable trust in God throughout this trying time, they had to have been plagued by the fear of the unknown.

In fact, when Marilyn and I attended the Celebrators Conference in October, we heard one of my favorite Christmas songs that reflects that uncertainty sung by its original composer, Mark Lowry.  Here are the words:

Mary did you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?

And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God

Oh Mary did you know

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again

The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I AM. 

And because Mary’s baby boy is the great I AM, the fear of the unknown need not cripple us, perplex us, or worry us, for the One who so graciously and ably took care of all my unknowns in Staunton and the One who did the same for Mary and Joseph promises to be there to do the same for you.  So place your hand into His and follow the wise words of advice that He gives us in Psalm 46:10 when He says: “Be still and know that I am God.”

 Wishing you a calm, anxiety and stress-free Advent and Christmas season!