Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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          A couple of weeks ago many of us attended the production of Scrooge at NMU, a production which featured the talents of several of our Bethany people.  It was very good; I think everyone who went enjoyed it but even if you weren’t there, you know the story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens from reading it or seeing one of the many movie or stage versions that have been made over the years.  It’s a great story, a classic of the season; I know for me it wouldn’t seem like Christmas without reading it, hearing it, seeing it, something.  It’s not holy scripture, but it certainly has become one of the texts of the season, having great influence on how we understand Christmas.  In fact, it may be that our understanding of Christmas comes as much from Dickens as it does from the Bible.

          What Dickens celebrates in A Christmas Carol are the values and virtues of family and good will toward others.  The Cratchit family is poor, but happy in the love they have for each other.  Scrooge is rich, but unhappy until he finds redemption in performing acts of generosity and in reconnecting with his family and others of his acquaintance.  It’s a good message and you can certainly see how family and generosity have carried over into our contemporary celebration of Christmas.  The family aspect of Christmas is heavily emphasized and one hopes it is a source joy although it is often tinged with sadness as we think about those who have been part of Christmas past for us but who are no longer around due to death or distance or illness or estrangement or whatever.   

As far as the generosity part goes, it is evident everywhere as this season brings out the best in us; every church does something, civic organizations have their programs to help the needy, the Mining Journal has their Cheer Club, the Salvation Army has their red kettles and bell ringers and people are generous.  It can be hard to raise money for charitable programs the rest of the year, but not in December because no one wants to be labeled a Scrooge and no one wants any family to be without on Christmas.

          These are good things; while we can probably all agree that the consumerism of Christmas gets way out of control it’s not bad to have family and generosity be part of the holiday.  But family and generosity are not really why we’re here in church on Christmas Eve.  We’re here tonight to contemplate another text, the story from Luke that is read every Christmas Eve; because while family and generosity are good things and are to be valued, they are not the reason for the season.

          Jesus is the reason for the season.  You see it on signs or hear it as a slogan to counter the secularization of Christmas.  But you know, while probably none of us would take issue with the Jesus is the reason for the season statement, after all we’re here keeping Christ in Christmas as another sign says, in a way, Jesus is not the reason for the season.  Jesus is the divine response to the reason for the season because the real reason for the season is…sin.         

What’s easily lost in the sentimentality of the Christmas story is that it is a story of redemption.  But if it’s a story of redemption, then there is also a story of sin that needs to be told.  Unfortunately, that’s where we come in; that’s our role; there’s a story of sin to be acknowledged even if no one really wants to hear it or think about it on Christmas Eve. 

          The story of Christmas starts with the disobedience which has created a barrier between us and God.  That’s why the first lesson in yesterday’s service of lessons and carols was about the sin of Adam and Eve.  While we were created in the image of God, our sin has changed that.  We’re no longer who we were created to be and we are powerless to change that.  But that separation becomes the transformational story of Christmas which tells us of the incomprehensible love of the God who, in our helplessness, takes the initiative, joining divinity to humanity in the baby whose birth we hear about tonight.  With the birth of Jesus, God enters into and becomes part of creation.  God himself is seen in this vulnerable, new born child. 

We should not let the sentimentality of Christmas or the focus on family or the focus on acts of good will distract us from this fundamental, saving, theological truth.  As the early church father Athanasius put it, God became human so that we might become gods or to put it in terms that might be more palatable to Lutherans, God became human so that we might more fully be who God intended us to be.

          It is a story that starts with sin, our sin, but we don’t dwell there long tonight.  Tonight we celebrate God’s response to sin, the Incarnation, the Feast of the Nativity According to the flesh of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It’s a festival of re-creation.  That means that while the focus of this night is on the birth of Jesus, the familiar story from the second chapter of Luke, through this Incarnation of God all of creation acquires new meaning; all of creation takes part in the event of which this Divine child is the center.

          In the icon of the Nativity that you see in front of the altar or on the inside cover of your bulletin, in the icon of the Nativity Mary and the Christ child are central, as it should be, but the intent is also to visibly show how all of creation is involved in this event starting with the earth itself which offers a cave for the child to be born in.  That’s a little disconcerting to us because in our Nativity scenes and Christmas cards and Christmas pageants we’re used to a stable.  Neither a cave nor a stable is specified in the biblical account, just a manger, but in the icon the cave symbolizes the darkness of sin and the shadow of death that has overtaken the world but then into that comes the Christ child who is the light shining forth in this darkness.

Around Mary and Jesus then are scenes which include representatives of the whole created world, each offering service or giving thanks in their own way.  The angels at the top offer their song, the heavens provide a star with its light connecting heaven and earth, the wise men on the left bring their gifts, the shepherd on the right offers wonder, the wilderness provides  the manger and we, humanity, offer Mary, the virgin mother.  In addition there are representatives of the plant and animal worlds rounding out this image of creation.

What all of these scenes remind us of is that in the Incarnation, God has reclaimed all of this.  Christmas is a festival of re-creation which provides new possibilities; new possibilities for our relationship with God, new possibilities for our relationships with each other, new possibilities for our relationship with the whole created world.  In response to sin, God has not acted in anger and wrath, but with new possibilities of renewal and holiness for his people and his creation.  That’s why we’re here tonight; to hear this story of re-creation, the story of Jesus, the child born to Mary, the story of Jesus who makes new life possible.

This is a night of joy, a night of wonder for all of creation.  So…in the words of the Psalmist, “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth.  Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder and all that is in it; let the field be joyful and all that is therein.”

Let heaven and nature sing…Joy to the World.  

 
 

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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