Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Eve 12/24

          In the first verse of Luke’s gospel he announces that he is concerned with writing an “orderly account,” as he calls it, an orderly account concerning the events of Jesus.  In his telling of it Luke wanted to emphasize that this wasn’t a “once upon a time” story but one that happened in real time, part of the history of real people.  He was concerned with time, because part of what he was doing as he wrote about Jesus, was proclaiming the arrival of a new time, a history changing time.

          So Luke’s telling of the Christmas story begins not with “Once upon a time,” but “In those days.”  In those days is the old time, chronological time, time shaped by the “powers that be,” people like King Herod and Emperor Augustus and Quirinius, the governor of Syria.  Time then as now was defined and denoted by who was in power, the Clinton years, the Bush administration, the Obama presidency, we know how that works, and of course such time is the time of things like census and taxes, pronouncements and decrees, legislation and administrative orders.  Business as usual in other words, time shaped and directed by the accepted power structures, time too often laden with fear and anxiety.  “In those days…”

          That’s where the story of Jesus birth starts, but a shift from “in those days” begins to occur in the verse, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  It’s a familiar verse, one which has been the basis of countless children’s pageants over the years, but when you think about the immense impact of this birth and the ways that it would change history, Luke provides surprisingly little detail.  It’s a pretty simple statement that moves the story along, but that’s about it; it’s a couple of verses later that we get a clue as to the weight of this event.  It’s when the angel appears to the shepherds and says, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  To you is born this day; with that phrase we’re no longer “in those days;” we’ve moved to a new day, a new time. 

          This is more than just a move in chronological time; this is more than a transition to a new administration which just amounts to a new version of business as usual.  This change in time is about something entirely new and is what makes this more than just a warm, sentimental story about something that happened a long time ago.  “This day” denotes a new age shaped by this simple event; simple on one level but history changing on another.  It is a new time not of business as usual but a time of the inbreaking of the heavenly realm and the song of angels, the announcement of good news of great joy for all people.  It’s a time of imagination and possibilities because God is among us.  In the baby whose birth we celebrate tonight, God is among us and because of that, we see the world differently.  We hear the “Do not be afraid,” of the angels and the anxiety of “in those days” goes away.  Hope is renewed because God is among us and where God is, there is hope and joy.  It is a new time, a new age.

          Every time we gather in church for worship it is supposed to be an entry into this new time.  It’s not an escape from the world but a chance to see the world differently.  From here, things should look different, our perspective should be different.  Like I said, this should happen every time we gather for worship, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.  A lot of the time worship winds up being  just another version of business as usual and we don’t grasp the difference of what goes on here; we go through the motions, we say the words and sing the songs and receive the sacrament all the while essentially remaining trapped “In those days.”

          I think though, that on Christmas Eve, at the late service, we get it.  Perhaps more than any other service of the year, late night Christmas Eve captures the imagination and wonder and possibility that our faith in Jesus Christ should evoke all the time.  On Christmas Eve, “In those days” becomes “this day” and the difference is real.  In the late night darkness and quiet of this night the world of business as usual falls away for awhile and God’s reality, as strange and unlikely as it may seem, God’s reality becomes our reality.  Our minds are quiet, our imaginations awake to the possibilities and we do see things differently, at least for awhile.  For awhile we experience the new time of “this day.”

          It’s all quite remarkable really.  “In those days” this event that we celebrate would have meant nothing other than to a very few people; just another child born to poor parents in a small backwater town of the empire.  It’s an event that wouldn’t have been newsworthy, people in positions of power wouldn’t have noticed, there wouldn’t be any royal birth announcement.  It’s not an event that would have created much noise or much of a stir. “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!” as the line from O Little Town of Bethlehem says.  We perhaps idealize that line as if Mary didn’t cry out at all during childbirth and Jesus didn’t cry like any other baby.  But I think it makes more sense to think about that line as it relates to “In those days.”

          “In those days,” this event didn’t make much noise, it was just an insignificant event on a silent night, but on “this day” this quiet birth marks God’s entry into this world in a new way.  “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” It’s God’s holy mystery unfolding and moving us into the new time of “this day.”   

On Christmas Eve, at the late service, we get it.  The reality of “In those days” is still out there and much of our existence is still spent there.  But on this quiet, late night, the Do not fear of the angels echoes down to us and we know a different reality.  We treasure this time, and with Mary, in wonder, we ponder these things in our hearts.
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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