Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Day - December 25, 2006

There’s a tradition that says that at the moment of Jesus’ birth, all of nature was quiet, silent as if time itself had missed a beat.  It’s said that in the shock of that stillness, all creatures knew what had happened.  In a language too deep for words, the language of silence there was a universal revelation of God’s eternal love.

According to this legend this news was made known to every part of creation, from the rocks and stones to the angels; to the rocks and stones because there were earthquakes throughout the Mediterranean world at the hour of Jesus’ birth; to the plants because in certain regions the vines suddenly flowered, bore grapes and produced wine; to the ox and the donkey who were present at the manger as they were gifted with human speech to praise the Savior’s birth; and to the angels, as the whole host of heaven came down to earth and shone around that cave with a brilliance that made night like day.

The meaning of this most holy moment was understood last by human beings, according to the legend, because our minds were not open to the wonder of the stillness and the magnitude of this event.  Instead, human understanding was clouded by preconceptions about what is real and what is logically possible, our hearts hardened by the influence of our own selfish desires.  The rest of creation knew right away what was happening, but we human creatures could not understand without abandoning our cynical and habitual ways of perceiving things and without taking time to hear the silence, taking a break from all those things that keep us busy and preoccupied, things we just have to do.

Maybe the things you just have to do for Christmas aren’t quite done yet, maybe they are, but one of the reasons I think it is important to provide a worship opportunity on Christmas Day is that it does provide a more reflective time during which you can hear John’s more cosmic account of the Incarnation which begins to address the meaning of the wonderful story we heard last night using what is some of the most beautiful language in the entire Bible  In a way I think coming to church on Christmas day is maybe the most significant thing you can do to counter the secularization of Christmas.  Christmas Eve worship is beautiful, but even it is touched by the romantic sentimentality.  Christmas Day worship though pretty much stands separate from all that.  It has a different feel.

I said last night that of all the gospel writers, Luke was the one who took particular care to tell the story of Jesus’ birth just right.  John’s focus is less on the story and more on the majesty and theological significance of the event; but he gets at this theological significance not with intellectual analysis but with a poetic narrative.  Like the angels who sang the good news of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, John knew that this news was so good that it had to be told in poetry.  For John, the Incarnation was and is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be engaged and lived.  As much as people throughout the ages have tried to solve the mystery and explain God, God in Jesus does not invite explanation…what this God invites is worship.

So John is not concerned with the details of Jesus’ birth; instead he invites us to dwell in the mystery of the Word made flesh.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Echoing the opening words of the Genesis creation account in this one verse the Word is separate from God, it’s in communion with God and it is identical with God.  Those seem to be contradictory ideas.  In an either/or world we want to know which one is it; separate from God, in relationship with God or the same as God.   But in this passage these seemingly contradictory ideas are joined by the word “and.”  You can’t do that in analytical explanation; but you can in poetry and finally words of poetry are what is needed to proclaim news so good that it defies explanation.

The Incarnation is perhaps our deepest theological mystery.  It is really what separates the Christian understanding of God from all others.  Other religions believe that God sends messengers to earth, uniquely inspired so as to convey the word and will of God.  But only in Christianity does God become human and that changes how we think about God and how we think about ourselves.  As some of the early church fathers put it, God becomes human so that humans can become God.  Luther articulates this idea a little differently saying that in faith we participate in the divine life of Christ, that Christ becomes a real part of us.  

John though, says it better than any of them; “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”  His words are not analysis, they are not moral instruction or problem solving.  They are poetry that proposes that the world in which God invites us to live, the relationship into which he invites our participation is different.  John’s words shatter settled convictions and evoke new possibility for God and for us.

In the quiet of Christmas morning, that is what we consider.  We don’t try to figure it out, we just take a little time away from other things that occupy us during this season to consider the Incarnation of God and we realize that this is what this holiday, this holy day is really about.  It’s not about presents and food and decorations and snow; it’s not about gatherings with family and friends.  All of those things can have a degree of importance, but they are peripheral unless they help us to dwell in the mystery of the Word made flesh. 

This morning we see the beauty of the poetic messengers who announce peace, who bring good news, who remind us that our God does indeed reign.  We rejoice that light does shine in the darkness of our world and that the darkness does not and will not overcome it.      

 
 

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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