Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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          It’s still Advent; there’s one more candle to light on the Advent wreath and that will happen here shortly; but change is immanent.  The waiting of Advent is almost over and we are poised to begin the celebration and contemplation of Christ’s birth.  This morning, on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we begin that transition as we stray from the normal structure of the Sunday liturgy and instead use the format of nine lessons and carols. 

          The lessons aren’t very Christmas-y to start with; the first lesson is about the sin of Adam and Eve.  But subsequent lessons tell of the promises of God, the faithfulness of God despite the sin of humanity.  It leads to prophecies concerning a Messiah and finally gets us to the Christmas story, lessons about Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds, wise men and of course the baby Jesus.

          Interspersed with the lessons are carols; some sung by the choir, some which you all join in on.  Since forever, one of the most effective ways of telling the story of Christmas has been through music.  From elaborate oratorios to simple carols, the lessons and theology and message of the season have been set to music so we all have our favorites, those pieces of music that help to make the season what it is.

          Music tells the story but there’s more to it than that.  Music also has the ability to touch the non-rational part of our brain. It moves us in ways that can’t be explained logically.  I think you know what I mean as I would venture to say that many of you have some piece of music, a song, maybe a hymn that evokes certain emotions, images and memories as soon as you hear it.  It’s not rational, but it’s real.  At its best, sacred music, the music of the church has the ability to give you a powerful sense of God’s presence and in many ways the essence of worship is exactly that; to stand in the presence of God.

          And maybe, just maybe, with music we defeat the work of the devil.  In front of me is the icon of the Nativity.  Icons are used extensively in Eastern Christianity, much less so in the tradition of Western Christianity of which we as Lutherans are a part, but besides being quite beautiful, (again appealing to the non-rational part of our brain,) there is also deep theological meaning in what is portrayed in icons.  The icon of the nativity includes much of what is familiar to us although it’s depicted somewhat differently from what we’re used to;  Mary is central along with the baby Jesus lying in the manger with animals nearby; there are angels and shepherds and wise men and a star.  And Joseph is there too, but he’s not part of the central group; he’s down in the corner, away from Mary and Jesus. 

          One of the lessons that will be read this morning is the birth of Jesus as told by Matthew.  It’s actually the gospel text appointed for this Fourth Sunday of Advent.  Unlike the Luke 2 account that is read on Christmas Eve, Matthew features Joseph more prominently with the angel reassuring him about what is happening with Mary, and Joseph, despite his doubts, being obedient, doing what the angel of the Lord commanded him.

          What the icon shows though, is Joseph being spoken to not by an angel but by an old shepherd, who is really the devil in disguise.  In the icon, the angel doesn’t have the last word for Joseph, the devil does, tempting the rational part of Joseph’s brain with the impossibility of what has been told to him.  In this way, Joseph becomes the ancestor of all of us, being the first one to say, “Wait a minute, a virgin birth?  That’s not possible.  God become human?  That’s not possible.”

          According to all that is reasonable, it’s not possible and the devil is pleased when those questions haunt us.  But it is perhaps through music more than words that we dispel the questions and find religious beauty and truth that transcends reason.  We get lost in the music and know that it is all real and true.  It’s not to discount reason or the questions that we ask as our ability to think and reason is a gift of God.  But what music can tell us is that reason may not be the highest of our faculties and might sometimes even inhibit our ability to see and know what is true.

          So…hear the lessons, get lost in the music, and begin to celebrate the truth of God’s Incarnation among us.
 
 

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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