Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Eve 12/24 (4:00 pm)

          Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child, to be counted in the census according to the law of Rome. 

          That’s all you get about me, Joseph, in that wonderful story you hear every Christmas Eve; just old Joseph, obedient Joseph doing what was right, doing what he was supposed to do, like he always did.  Or was it what I was supposed to do?  At the time, I can tell you, I wasn’t sure.  Was I doing the right thing or was I just a prisoner of my dreams?  I often had dreams, maybe it’s because I was named after Old Testament Joseph, I don’t know.  Sometimes my dreams were so clear that they seemed real even after I woke up.  Does that ever happen to you?  Sometimes my dreams were just weird.  And sometimes my dreams were both. 

          That’s what happened when I found out Mary was going to have a baby.  It should have made me happy, right, but I knew I wasn’t the father.  Doing what I was supposed to do, which is what I always tried to do, meant breaking it off with Mary.  I didn’t want to disgrace her but on the other hand I had no responsibility for her or the baby.  So that’s what I was going to do, and no one would have blamed me, until the dream, the dream where an angel of the Lord told me not to be afraid, but to stay by Mary, that this baby was from the Holy Spirit and he would save people from their sins.

          You’ve got to be crazy to believe something like that, right?  It was weird, but it seemed so real.  There were people that said angels spoke to them, delivering messages, but I doubted it.  Yet it seemed so real, even if none of it made sense.  The angel said, don’t be afraid, but now I was even more afraid.  How could any of this have anything to do with me?  I was afraid, but I told Mary I would stay with her.  But it sure made my life more complicated.

          For awhile Mary could hide the fact that she was going to have a baby, but not after few months.  You can imagine the looks from the people  of Nazareth, looks at Mary, looks at me and it wouldn’t do much good for me or Mary to say we’d been visited by angels.  That wasn’t going to fly.  So we carried on as best we could.  I did as much carpentry work as I could, but a lot of people seemed to be looking elsewhere for the kinds of tools and furnishings I made.  People kind of avoided us, and that was OK.  Mary and I took comfort in each other but I have to admit that after awhile I wondered about my angelic visitor.  Was it just a dream?  Was I making a fool of myself?  Was Mary making a fool of me?

          Then came the word of the census.  Periodically our Roman occupiers wanted a count of all the Jews so they could make sure they were getting enough tax money out of us.  But you had to be counted in the town where you were born, not the town you lived in so I had to go back to Bethlehem as I was descended from the royal line of David.  As Mary and I were engaged, she would go with me to be counted with me; or I could leave her behind.  But despite my doubts, I couldn’t do that.  She was close to having the baby so the trip wouldn’t be easy, but I just hoped we could get to Bethlehem and back before anything happened. 

          But that’s not how it went.  We got to Bethlehem, but Mary’s time had come.  I just needed to find a place for us to stay but the all the inns and other lodging were full with others like me who had returned.  Finally though, seeing how desperate we were, one inn keeper said he could at least give us shelter out in the back with the animals. 

          We went back there.  It wasn’t so much a stable like you have over here.  More like a cave in the side of a hill with cows and oxen and other animals so you can imagine it didn’t smell very good.  But it was under cover anyway, and the animals actually provided some warmth.  I tried to get Mary comfortable, but I don’t think I was much help; I’d never been around for the birth of a child before.  But that innkeeper must have told some of the local women about us because very quickly they were there knowing what to do because they had been around for these things.          

They kind of shooed me away and as I stepped out for a breath of fresh air I could see strange things going on in the night sky.  I knew the sky as people in those days did, so I noticed when there was something unusual but I’d never seen the light dance and move in the dark sky like it did that night.  Something was going on.  I thought about what the angel had said about this baby; maybe it was true after all. 

From all the commotion, I could tell that the baby was being born.  I’d heard that sometimes it took a long time, but it didn’t this time.  I got in a little closer and I could see the women were washing the baby and then they wrapped him in strips of cloth and put him in the feed trough by Mary.  Mary looked exhausted, but peaceful.  The women assured me that she was OK, she’d come through it well.  Some of them left, but a couple said they’d stay to make sure everything was OK. 

I was tired but I couldn’t sleep, you know how that is.  I kind of stayed off on the side wondering what was next and it didn’t take long to find out.  I heard voices approaching and got up and could see a several shadowy, kind of scary figures approaching.  One of them saw me and said, “Was a baby born here tonight?”  The women came at them and said, “Get away from here?”  They said, “We mean no harm.”  I listened in amazement as they said, “We were out in the fields and an angel appeared and said a Savior, the Messiah was being born in Bethlehem.  The angel said the baby would be lying in a manger wrapped in strips of cloth and then there was a whole host of angels singing ‘Glory to God in the highest.’”  “Get out of here,” the women said.  But I said, “No.  Let them look.”  The women looked at me like I was crazy, but they stepped aside.

The shepherds drew closer and Mary opened her eyes.  They repeated to her what they had said.  She reached for the baby and one of the women placed him in her arms.  She held him close and closed her eyes again with a knowing smile on her face.

The shepherds weren’t the last visitors that night, at least for me.  You might be thinking of the Wise Men, but that was later.  That night I was still kind of confused and wondering about things, I still couldn’t sleep when a rather kindly looking old shepherd wandered by but it seemed like I was the only one who could see or hear him.  He said, “You don’t believe all this do you?  A child born of the Holy Spirit???  What those shepherds said???  You’re a dreamer Joseph.  None of this is real.  None of it’s true.”

That old shepherd or the devil or whoever he was tried to convince me that I shouldn’t believe any of it, that it was all beyond imagination.  But it wasn’t beyond imagination because here you are this Christmas Eve afternoon to remember it all again.  You too might sometimes have someone tell you it’s not real, it’s not true; it’s a nice story but things like that don’t happen.  But it is real.  It is God’s truth when we allow ourselves to imagine it.  I didn’t understand it all and I never did, but God became human in that little baby.  God became human to fully be part of who we are.  He did it for each of us individually and for all of us together.  Out of love, He became human to take away our sin and make us who we were created to be.

I ignored that old shepherd or whoever he was that night and at that moment I knew I was doing the right thing.  I went in and got closer to Mary and the baby both peacefully sleeping and finally I could sleep.  It was all real.  I was in the presence of God.   
 
 

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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