Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Day 12/25/2013

The atmosphere is different on Christmas morning than it is on Christmas Eve.  Those of us who attend this service notice the difference; it is a quieter, more reflective counterpoint to the more festive Christmas Eve services, more intimate for sure.  The big Christmas Eve crowds are nice, but there’s something nice about a smaller gathering too and maybe that’s part of why we’re here. 

Besides the atmosphere being different this morning, the tone of the lessons is different as well.  In the gospel from the first chapter of John and the second lesson from the beginning of the letter to the Hebrews you do get two of the more beautiful and reflective passages in the entire Bible.  They don’t have the same sentimental value that Luke’s Christmas Eve gospel has, but they are verses that begin to get at the meaning of the Incarnation, the word becoming flesh in the person of Jesus.  Both of them give us words and phrases and images that cause us to consider what it all means, things to ponder in our hearts as Mary pondered things in hers.  They both encourage meditative reflection more than they invite critical analysis.

The other two lessons for today (and they never change) offer something of a contrast to the second lesson and the gospel.  The poetry of Isaiah in the first lesson is the vision of a messenger at long last bringing the good news of peace. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.”  Throughout Advent and then again last night we’ve had Isaiah’s visions of a new creation, the peaceable kingdom where the wolf and the lamb will lie down together and today, following up on those visions, off in the distance, Isaiah sees the messenger coming to announce that it’s true, what he envisioned is happening.

The psalm for today then, is a response to the good news of the messenger.  Psalm 98 is a summons to exuberant, authentic joy in the presence of the Lord.  It’s “Joy to the world!  Let heaven and nature sing!”  Maybe it’s exuberance that we aren’t quite ready for this morning after a late night last night.  Christmas morning is a more quiet time, it does invite reflection but Psalm 98 is a reminder that what we reflect on and what we celebrate is a cause for great joy, joy that centers on the gift of a savior, a savior who forever changes who we are because he forever changes our relationship with God.

It makes me realize though, that as much as I talk about the church being out of step with the wider culture during Advent, we’re perhaps just as much out of step when Christmas finally comes around and not just because we’re in church  this morning when most churches and most worshipers take the day off.  We’re also out of step in our reason for celebrating “Joy to the World” this morning.  We’re not the only ones celebrating; there is lots of Christmas joy out there, or what passes for Christmas joy anyway, but in a lot of cases it’s the kind of Christmas joy that people think they can buy in a store.  For many of them, right about now, Christmas is pretty much over; maybe there’s still Christmas dinner to look forward to, but other than that you’ve got Christmas joy quickly heading for post-Christmas let down.    

Having observed Advent as more than just a long Christmas Eve though, and considering texts like the ones from John and Hebrews today, we know that Christmas is a little bit more.  Our joy isn’t centered on the material, external trappings of the holiday, some of which are very nice, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without them, but our joy is joy that runs deeper and doesn’t end when the last present is opened or Christmas dinner is finished.

That is the joy that Psalm 98 calls us to.  It is the Psalm on which Isaac Watts based Joy to the World.  It does represent something of a counterpoint to John and Hebrews as it invites us to open our eyes to behold the mighty acts of God.  With the Incarnation, divine love and power become part of our world; righteousness has struck from above into the world below; the Lord has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness; God is with us.  That’s what we celebrate and it is cause for joy.  The joy expressed in the psalm moves from the inner circle of believers, then to all the nations and it doesn’t stop until heaven and nature sing.  “Let the rivers clap their hands, and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord, who comes to judge the earth.”

But wait: the Lord comes to judge the earth?  That doesn’t sound right on Christmas morning.  Joy and judgment don’t go together.  Or do they?  Without the savior whose birth we celebrate, indeed joy and judgment would not go together.  But part of our joy is that the one who comes to judge is Jesus, the light shining into our darkness, a gift of grace who came for us and who gave himself for us.  Our joy isn’t just joy at the birth of a baby, it’s joy because of who that baby is and what he does…for us.  We aren’t sinners in the hands of an angry God, we’re forgiven sinners in the arms of Jesus.  He does come to judge the world but he will judge in righteousness, his gracious righteousness so that joy and judgment do go together.

On Christmas morning, celebrating and looking back at the birth of Jesus, we also remain in the Advent mode of looking ahead.  For good reasons we do sing Joy to the World today, but we also know that our joy is not yet complete.  For a day maybe we can ignore the news of the world out there, but that doesn’t make it go away; it’s still there and in the next week with all the end of the year reviews we’ll be reminded of just how incomplete our joy is.  Even that though, is also a reminder that in Jesus God entered this world in all its messiness and brokenness.  The earth is touched by heaven and in Jesus we begin to envision the future, we begin the move into the future, where joy will be complete.

With the psalmist and with the prophets we don’t just celebrate what’s already happened, we dare to imagine a different future, a future that some would say is impossible.  On Christmas morning though, our eyes are opened, our imagination is opened, so that we know and trust the truth revealed by Isaiah and John and Hebrews and it is cause for joy, Joy to the World, so let’s sing the hymn.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

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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