Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Eve 12/24 (11:00 pm)

Sometimes when we hear about the birth story it sounds like a Hallmark card or a Disney movie, full of gauzy light and happy endings. It has a mom, a dad and an “awww” inducing infant. It even has heavenly choirs. If you’re me, you even like to imagine that the shepherds have cute, little sheep dogs. In paintings, there are always adoring expressions, gorgeous robes and warm, golden haloes. What could be more beautiful?

I have to admit, it always gets me. I’m a sucker for lovely nativity scenes and even some holiday themed commercials get me right there. Yet what does most of that have to do with the Christmas story?

Most of the pretty pageantry we have so firmly engrained in our memories, we made up. Listen to the original. In an occupied land, a man is forced to relocate to accommodate the whims of the census takers. On the trip the man is accompanied by his heavily pregnant fiancée, who is pregnant by a third party. For transportation they have a total of one donkey between them. When they reach their destination, they have neither the money nor the connections to secure a room for the night. They are reduced to sleeping in a stable. There, isolated from family and friends, the woman goes into labor. They wouldn’t have known any of the local midwives. For this birth, away from home, surrounded by strangers, they must have felt truly alone. After the birth the baby is placed in a feeding trough, because they have nowhere else to put him.

Breaking away from that scene, we meet some shepherds. These shepherds are sleeping outside, keeping one eye open for predators. Suddenly they are confronted by beings so terrifying that their standard greeting to tell people not to be afraid. The creatures tell them that they will find a baby lying in a feed trough and it will be a sign.

That’s it. That’s the story. If that’s the story, what makes it so special? Why do we still celebrate it thousands of years later? What makes that birth different from the millions of births that occur in difficult situations every year?

The difference lies in the angels announcement of who the baby is. In their words he is “a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” Furthermore “this is good news of great joy for all the people.” It’s not just some baby. It’s the baby. This is the savior, the Messiah. Also, we proclaim him, he is God made flesh. He is God come down in the form of a little baby.

But note who God came down to. God came down to a poor, unmarried couple having a tough time of it. He was born in some of the city’s least luxurious accommodations. His first bed was a feeding trough. Sometimes the way we tell it we make it sound like Jesus was born to the Cleavers. Everything was perfect. It was the largest, most hygienic stable ever. Birth was painless. There was no need to worry about light, because everyone’s haloes provided more than enough. The whole thing was a serene, peaceful experience for the parents-to-be, because, well, aren’t all births like that?

Jesus was born in a real place to real people with real problems. Born in an unfamiliar city in a precarious situation, Mary and Joseph must have been terrified the whole time. When everything is over, strange shepherds come by to see the baby. That’s what’s in today’s reading. There are no mysterious wise men. There are no fabulous gifts. There aren’t even any haloes or mentions of angels appearing to Mary and Joseph. You have one couple alone in the dark, faced with the responsibility of a newborn. You have, not a fairytale, but real life.

That is the real miracle. God wasn’t born to the right people in the right part of town in the right way. God was born to those who most needed him. He was born to the scared, to the uncertain, to the stranger. God wasn’t born to the perfect. He was born to those whom he calls to him. He came not just into our lives, but the parts of our lives that we can be most afraid to show, even to him. But there’s nothing to hide. He’s seen it. It’s why he came.

Sometimes I think we have a vision of this perfect Christmas that we are going to have. Everything will be ready on time. Everyone will get along. No one will argue, much less have too much eggnog and rehash a twenty year old feud. Every present will be perfectly wrapped and none will be a disappointment. All cookies will be good and no small children will get cranky from too much sugar and excitement. It will recapture the best of our Christmas memories, with none of the bad parts. It’s OK if it doesn’t turn out like that. The first Christmas wasn’t perfect either.

In the end, the point of the story isn’t how beautiful everything is. The point is that everything isn’t beautiful. Sometimes things are scary. Sometimes things are messy. This is what Jesus came down for. Not for perfect people with perfect lives, but for real people with real problems. God came for those who need him. Infinite grace came for those who are most in need of grace. That is what is truly beautiful and there is no greater miracle than that.

Vicar Joy Proper

 
 

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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