Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Midnight Service - December 24-25, 2006

Once again, in the final hours of this Christmas Eve, we gather to hear the story of Jesus birth.  For all of us, it’s very familiar, we’ve heard it since we were little kids…so more than likely it’s lost its ability to amaze us, although it is amazing, yet it continues to captivate us in ways that perhaps no other Bible story does.  Familiar as it is, there is still a sense of wonder about it even for those who may not feel themselves to be particularly religious or faithful.

That sense of wonder is amazing all by itself in a scientific, technological world that doesn’t express wonder at much.   These days everything can be analyzed and explained and overanalyzed and over explained so that mostly we just wonder at how clever and ingenious we human beings can be.  But this story of angels and shepherds and a baby born to a young girl, a baby wrapped in bands of cloth and placed in a manger, this story defies explanation. 

As a preacher, my advice to myself every year for Christmas Eve is resist the temptation to explain.  Stay out of they way; let the story tell itself and evoke wonder again in those who hear it.  We need such wonder.  Without it an important dimension of being alive and being human is missing. Without it life becomes pretty flat and uninteresting.  With such wonder, we get a glimpse of the divine, a sense not only that something new and good and different is possible, but that it is happening among us, tonight.

The story has a particular power about it but even more than the narrative we hear each year from Luke, it may be the songs and carols of Christmas that tell the story best and provide this worship with its deepest meaning and its most emotional moments, its greatest wonder.  Music and song can do that and the writers of Bible knew it. 

Much of the Bible is stories and accounts written in prose.  But there are also some parts of the Bible, some news that is so good that spoken prose doesn’t do it justice.  It must be sung using words of poetry.  As the psalmist says tonight, “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth.”  Those are words which announce that the Lord reigns, that God is made known in a new way, and that the world is different because of it.  Such good news requires new music so that all of creation can sing and rejoice, so heaven and nature can sing.  That’s what we do on Christmas Eve, in the wonder of this night. 

I don’t think it is surprising that music is such a big part of this season.  I don’t think it’s surprising that there are so many beloved Christmas carols and that even people who don’t sing very often or who don’t think they are very good singers like to sing them and they still sound good.  It’s not surprising because this musical connection is actually part of the Christmas story itself. 

In Jesus’ birth something new and miraculous had happened; God’s real presence in a human being.  The event itself is something beyond our human comprehension; we really can only wonder at it.  But each of the gospel writers had to think about how they wanted to tell this story.  Of all of them, Luke in particular seemed to want make sure he got the birth of Jesus just right.  How to tell this part of the story so that the newness, the majesty, the wonder of it all, were properly conveyed?

For Luke, news this good could only be announced by angels in song.  First the angel tells the shepherds of good news of great joy for all people, news of a savior, an unlikely child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.  But then, there just had to be a song; suddenly there was a multitude of angels praising God, singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

It’s a song about something new, something wonderful, poetry and song that cuts through mundane decrees from rulers, decrees about a census that’s needed so the powerful can continue to manage and tax the empire.  That’s the reality the people knew, decrees telling them what to do; but such decrees were old news, same old same old, business as usual, don’t ask any questions just show up and be counted.  Old history begins with a decree. 

The new history of Jesus though, that begins with a song sung by angels, and Emperor Augustus and Quirinius and Herod and all those important people can’t do anything about it.  They can’t do anything about it, because they can’t hear the song.  They’re too busy counting, managing the old history, hoping the bottom line numbers add up.  They don’t have time for any new songs that might upset the reality of their well managed world.  They don’t have time for or want any new beginnings.  They don’t have time to wonder.

Shepherds on the other hand…they hear the song in all its newness.  What strange recipients though to receive the message and hear the song.  Shepherds were not people who were benefiting from the old order of decrees and census.   Despite how we might romanticize them, they were pretty close to the bottom of the pecking order in that world.  But they were ready to wonder and be amazed at the song of angels, of the possibility of something new, something new even for people like them living on the margins of respectable society.  And finally, overcome with wonder, they too have to sing, these rough and unsophisticated shepherds.  They have to sing out praising and glorifying God about all that they had seen and heard.  They didn’t care about explanations, they just offered praise and lived in the promise and possibility of a new beginning.

On Christmas Eve we join the shepherds in the wonder of news so good that it has to be sung.  On that night long ago a process was begun that would reconcile God with humanity and bring about peace on earth, good will toward mankind.  Part of that remains in the future; we know that just singing it didn’t make it happen in its fullness; we know the reality of our world.  But tonight in word and liturgy and song and sacrament, the future is present, for awhile.  For a moment or two, in joy and wonder and song our hope is realized.  With the shepherds we know that tonight the world of decrees and census has no ultimate claim on us.

Tonight, we know a more wonderful truth, a more wonderful reality…and we too must sing.  

 
 

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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