Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Day 12/25/2010

Most, if not all of you, have attended Christmas Day services before so you know the story of Mary and Joseph and angels and shepherds was last night but that today we shift to the beginning of John’s gospel with it’s more cosmic description of the incarnation.  It’s a text that doesn’t have the same sentimental value as the story from Luke, but in terms of the impact it would have on Christian doctrine as it evolved, it is extremely important particularly in defining who Jesus is.  We might wish that we could linger a bit longer with the sentiment of Luke, but come morning on Christmas Day we move from adoration of an infant to contemplation of the full maturity of who that infant becomes. 

We do that as we hear the poetry of the prologue to John’s gospel, but also as we hear the opening verses of Hebrews, which are also very profound and poetic in their description of Jesus.  The author of this letter calls Jesus the heir of all things, the reflection of God’s glory, bearing the very stamp of God’s nature, upholding the universe by his word.  That’s a pretty high assessment of Jesus and it serves as another reminder to us that it is Jesus the Christ who we worship, not a baby in a manger.  So the gospel of John and the letter to the Hebrews take a very different approach to this as compared to Luke.  We need both of course; Christmas isn’t Christmas without the story we heard last night, but Christmas also isn’t Christmas if it effectively ends with the story last night. 

The texts we hear this morning do include important theological points which did become significant for the early church councils that wrestled with defining the nature of God and the nature of Jesus; in other words they are about theology, they are about God, but these texts also can’t help but move toward human beings and into anthropology.  They are definitely about who God is, but they are also about who we are.    

The central claim of the Hebrews passage is verse three in which the Son, Jesus, is called “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being,” again, a very high assessment of who Jesus is because what this verse says is that Jesus is not just kind of like God, you know, higher than humans, higher even than the angels, but still less than God.  Instead it says that Jesus is the exact imprint of God; high Christology this is called, focused as it is on the divine nature of Jesus, not similar to God but equal to God as the councils and creeds finally decide.

Now, it would not be bad to sit for awhile in the quiet of this morning and ponder in our hearts this lofty identity of Jesus; it’s definitely worth pondering.  But to declare that as the human being whose birth we celebrate, that Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his very being is also to say that earthly flesh has become God’s territory and that too is worth pondering.  

God had always been thought of as other, mostly in the realm of Spirit, so this move to the flesh is significant.  God had acted through humans in many and various ways as Hebrews says, but this move is different.  One could say that as its creator, earthly flesh was always part of God’s territory, but in the Incarnation God becomes involved with humanity in a new way, not only as its creator, not only as the spiritual mover behind human beings, but as part of humanity, as one of us.

Such a statement redefines humanity because in assuming human nature, Jesus changes it.  He changes human nature and that changes who we are.  It’s not that we become divine in nature, but Jesus as the Christ makes it possible to restore our relationship with the divine, with God, giving us access to a new mode of existence, one that is not limited to our humanity, but one that is touched by the divine.  Athanasius, a theologian of the early church and involved in the council that first wrestled with all this didn’t use these exact words, but the essence of his thought is that with the birth of Christ the gravitational pull that draws humanity toward destruction is reversed.  By this act of God the possibility of transformed life, life touched by the divine is opened for all people.

Now all of that is some rather heavy theology for Christmas morning.  But, as I’ve said before at other times, you have to know who you are before you can be who you are supposed to be and these lessons today have implications concerning who we are.  It’s not hard to figure though, why for the big crowd on Christmas Eve the lectionary opts for just telling the story.  But the meaning of Christmas is diminished if the baby never leaves the manger so that’s what we do this morning, we take the baby out of the manger recognizing that what we celebrate in the incarnation is not just a moment in a life, but it’s about the entirety of all that Jesus did and experienced, especially his teachings, his death and his resurrection.

When we become children of God, as the John texts declares that we are, when we are called to follow Jesus, we are not called to follow a baby.  We consider the self giving, self denying nature of Jesus’ life and we respond in ways that reflect that.  By doing so, we don’t share in the divine nature of Jesus, but we do share in the divine attributes of love and self giving care of others.  As we do those things and as we share in the worship and sacraments of the church, we move closer to living the identity made possible for us in the incarnation.  Our human nature doesn’t become divine, but it witnesses to the divine.

Christmas morning is different.  The story from last night still echoes in some of the hymns we sing but today with John’s gospel and the letter to the Hebrews, we reflect with them concerning the meaning of what we heard last night.  That reflection inevitably points us to the rest of the story, the entirety of Jesus’ life culminating in the events of Holy Week and Easter.  As I said, the baby does have to leave the manger if all this is to mean anything.  We’ve got time though throughout the rest of the church year to think about that.

For now, we’ll give the psalmist the last word and together we’ll make a joyful noise to the Lord.  Let the sea roar and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.  Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy.  Let heaven and nature sing.  After all…it’s Christmas!

Rev. Warren Geier
 
 

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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