Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Christmas Eve 12/24/2011

After reading the Gospel lesson at this service it always feels like there isn’t a need to say much more.  The late night Christmas Eve service is one that tends to be more about the experience of it than it is about any deep thought or analysis; I think that’s why a lot of people like it and why we continue to get a decent turn out for worship at this inconvenient hour.  You come though knowing that you’re not going to hear anything you haven’t heard before; you know you’re not going to sing anything you haven’t sung before.  But again, that familiarity is part of why you’re here.  No matter how many times you’ve done it, Christmas Eve is about the experience and somehow it is new every year, and it doesn’t require much explanation.    

Christmas Eve is about keeping yourself up until this late hour and going out into the cold, or this year not so cold darkness still illuminated by many of the Christmas lights that are still lit.  It’s about the atmosphere in the church, different at this time of night, more shadowy, the sanctuary decorations even more beautiful in the dimmer light…all of which helps serve to bring back memories of Christmas past, memories of your own childhood, maybe memories of when your kids were little, memories of people who were part of Christmas past who aren’t around anymore.  For some of you it’s memories from right here or maybe even the church downtown, for others of us memories of other places, other churches.  It comes back though doesn’t it?

Tonight is about the music, O Come All Ye Faithful and the other familiar carols that move us in different ways.  It’s about Silent Night by candlelight later on; that’s what you remember, that’s what might bring tears to your eyes, that’s what brings you back every year.  That’s the experience of Christmas Eve, and none of it requires much thought.  Without even trying you quiet that part of your brain that’s always thinking and analyzing things, and instead your imagination takes over so that on this night you may experience God’s presence in an especially meaningful and profound way.

Experience comes into the Christmas story that I just read too; you hear it but don’t think too much about it because it’s so familiar; you know it so well that it’s more like background music.  But…there are things to think about, because while St. Luke crafted a story that touches us emotionally and warms our heart, his birth narrative is a work of inspired genius as you would be hard pressed to find another story that presents more succinctly and imaginatively and beautifully what Jesus represents and what his birth means, and that is worth thinking about.  Luke took what he knew and believed about Jesus and wrote this wonderful story.

One thing Luke does is that he returns to an earlier tradition of telling family stories.   When you think about it, the Bible starts with family stories; Adam and Eve and then Noah represent that to some extent, then Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s sons, all stories of God told through the families of those patriarchs.  But then as Israel and Judah develop as nations, family stories pretty much disappear and we get stories that focus more on nations and kings and heroes.  It’s starts with Moses and then hits its peak with King David but then even those stories stop as Israel and Judah decline in power and significance.  From there though, through the prophets, hope for a Messiah develops, another king like David who will make the kingdom great again.  At that point, they were waiting for another hero, a superhero to come and rescue them.

Instead of a superhero born into wealth and power though, they and we get a baby, a baby born in a manger to an insignificant young woman who wasn’t even married yet.  It’s a family story again and not exactly the ideal family, but of course those Old Testament families weren’t ideal either.  Luke takes us back to the family, to the small places of life, far from the halls of power, to tell another family story.  Jesus’ birth didn’t fit the mold of what the people were waiting for though, and his life and death never fit the mold either.

In that alone, there is a lot to think about.  God shows up in the small places.  To do the most important thing that has ever been done, to tell the most important story that’s ever been told, God showed up in a place of little note, to a family of less note.  The first to hear about the significance of this seemingly insignificant birth were shepherds, themselves insignificant occupiers of yet another small place on the fringes of society. 

What they were told by the angels who appeared to them was that this baby was the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.  What neither they nor Mary nor Joseph could have understood, was that God’s story was starting over in this strange way.  God’s love was revealed again for the sake of people who hadn’t always loved him, and in the way Luke tells it, we feel that love in a very real way, it touches us.  It’s the story of another chance for people who didn’t deserve another chance and we know it’s not just about them, it’s about us.   It’s a story of God’s grace and it starts in a small, unlikely place with a small, unlikely family

None of it fits the mold, but as I said, Jesus didn’t fit the mold either.  In the emotion and sentiment of this night, we want to remember that.  The baby grows up so we do have to do more than celebrate his birth as a baby.  With Mary we do ponder these things, we do kind of get lost in the moment, but the reading from the letter to Titus breaks the trance for a moment.  In this letter, we are reminded of the gift of grace that Jesus represents but also about how we are to respond to that gift.

What this short passage does is to effectively bring to an end the season of Advent with reminders of themes we’ve heard for the past four weeks.  We celebrate the fact that the grace of God has appeared in the person of Jesus, the grace of God has appeared in this event we celebrate tonight; but we also wait; we wait for the “glorious fulfillment of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” as the letter says. 

We live in between times, between the birth and the fulfillment and…with the reminder of how we are to live during these times, that we should renounce impiety and worldly passions, that we should live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly; with that reminder what this passage does is to invite us into the family.   The family story about Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus that Luke began to tell quickly becomes an extended family story, first with the announcement to the shepherds and then, with the reading from Titus, the extended family comes to includes us and with that inclusion comes responsibility. 

We are part of the family.  We too mostly occupy small places, far from the halls of power, our lives made up of events and relationships that are little noted beyond a small group of people.  We occupy the same kinds of places that Mary and Joseph and the shepherds occupied; but God comes to those places, revealed in surprising and unlikely ways, revealed through us sometimes, in the small and seemingly insignificant ways we model the broken mold life of Jesus.

When God came into the lives of Mary and Joseph and the shepherds their lives quite obviously were changed.  Instead of being who they thought they were, they became what God had called and created them to be.  In many ways, that’s the story of Christmas.  God becomes human so that we can become what he wants us to be.  He enters into the small places and changes things.

Maybe the late service on Christmas Eve is one of those small places.             

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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