Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John chapter 1)  “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.  He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” (Hebrews chapter 1)  If you came to church this morning expecting to again hear the familiar Christmas story of angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, you’re disappointed.  That was last night.  Today, a much smaller group gathers and, to use Luther’s words that you perhaps remember from the catechism, today we begin to ask, “What does this mean?”

          It’s not a question that’s answered by one text or one sermon but the lectionary for Christmas Day does provide us with plenty to think about.  In fact, the early church fathers made ample use of these texts that reflect on the Incarnation as they asked, “What does this mean?” or as they asked Jesus’ own question, “Who do you say that I am?”  They used these texts in formulating the Nicene Creed in the fourth century, the words which we will use to confess our Trinitarian faith a little bit later, and also in formulating the Definition of Chalcedon in the fifth century, a statement that I’m sure is not as familiar to you as the Nicene Creed but which continues to be the defining statement about Jesus as fully human and fully divine, the Word made flesh.

          These texts do contain beautiful language and imagery; they are the kind that are a pleasure to read and hear and they are loaded with theological importance but they’re also pretty heavy for Christmas morning, perhaps more than we really want to delve into right now.  Perhaps this morning it’s enough to just hear them continuing the announcement of good news that began yesterday, good news that God has acted in response to the sin of humanity not with wrath and condemnation which certainly was an option, but instead with an offer of salvation, by the birth of this fully human, fully divine Christ child.

          This morning maybe we’re more like the watchmen on the walls of the ruined city of Jerusalem, watchmen who have been waiting and hoping for good news and finally there is something to shout about.  Isaiah was writing about the end of the exile, the time when those who had been taken away as captives were allowed to return from Babylon.  Watchmen had been stationed on the walls, partly in fear of a new invasion, but even more hoping to sight a messenger who would tell them that the situation had been reversed, that Babylon had been defeated and the people were coming home.  They watched and hoped because this would signal not just a military, political victory for Israel, but a victory for their God.  They watched and hoped, but they weren’t sure that this messenger would ever arrive.  They watched and hoped even though there wasn’t much reason for hope.

          But finally the messenger is seen and even from a distance they know that it’s good news because the messenger runs lightly and exuberantly and effortlessly.  From a distance they hear him shout, “Your God reigns!”  Maybe they’re not sure they heard him right, but they all heard the same thing; “Your God reigns!” so they know that their time of waiting and watching is over.  History has taken a decisive turn.  Their God has reestablished order, defeating the powers of death and destruction. 

          This Christmas morning we wake up and the waiting and watching that we know as Advent is over.  We’re a little different than the watchmen looking out from the walls of Jerusalem though because we know beforehand that the good news is coming, the message of the angels and the shepherds that was announced last night; we know it’s coming.  We know the story but still we watch and wait every year to hear it again, to be reminded again of this decisive act of God’s grace, an act that will ultimately lead to the final defeat of the powers of death and destruction. 

          But again, this morning we wake up, many of us tired from a late night, we wake up and come to church and the wait is over.  The message of good news has been proclaimed and we know it’s true.  That means that like the sentinels of Jerusalem coming down from their watchtowers, we can come down from the watchtowers of Advent.  Our Savior is born!  It’s time to celebrate, to sing for joy, to share this good news, but also to begin to consider what all this means for us, today, especially what it means after the presents are opened and Christmas dinner is eaten and cleaned up.

          As I said, the answer isn’t going to be found in one day or one sermon or one text.  That’s why in church we do observe the full 12 days of Christmas, but in reality it’s even more than that.  Advent and Christmas begin the church year but we really spend the entire year, with Resurrection and Easter at the center, to consider the meaning of what we celebrate today, and then, beginning with the new church year that will begin late next November, we do it again.  The cycle starts over because the question is always with us, and always calls for new responses on our part.

          The opening verses of John’s gospel and the opening verses of the letter to the Hebrews provide us with some of our answer, but again we do well to return to Isaiah to understand the nature of our response.  The watchmen on the walls came down to share their good news with the defeated, dependent people still living inside the walls of the ruined city, people who had probably long ago resigned themselves to the way things were.

          They need to hear this message of peace and salvation just as those inside the walls of the church need to hear it.  Inside the church walls, we too can be prone to resigning ourselves to the way things are so we do need to hear that our Savior is born bringing new life and new possibility.  But there’s more.  The last part of the last verse of this passage says, “And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”  All the ends of the earth.  That’s more than just those inside the walls.  And it says they shall see the salvation of our God.  So there is an announcement to make, but the transformation of us and of all creation that takes place in the Incarnation should also be seen.  It should be evident in who we are and how we live, easily seen by all the ends of the earth. 

That can be rather sobering news on a Christmas morning as we think about our failure as individuals to live and act according to the teachings of the savior whose birth we celebrate.  It can be sobering news if we think honestly about the fact that we live in a country that calls itself Christian but whose example and actions and policies can sometimes fail to live up to that name.

That, however, is why we renew the cycle and repeat the good news every year.  The task is large and humbling; we do often fail but we don’t lose hope because we know that God coming to us in the Incarnation empowers us to become the people we were created to be, to constantly be renewed and made holy as we live out the good news of salvation we are called announce and make known to all the ends of the earth.

On Christmas morning we again take time to consider all these things as the transformation begun in the Incarnation of Jesus continues in each of 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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