Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Eve 12/24/2014

Last year, Christmas fell on a Wednesday. Wednesday is our trash day as I’m sure it is for some of you, the day you put out the recycling and the garbage for pick up. I was surprised though, when our instructions were to put everything out as usual, that even though it was Christmas, the normal collection would take place, and it did. The workers were out there doing what they do even though it seemed like they should have been at home enjoying a quiet or a boisterous Christmas morning with their family, perhaps even going to church, who knows. I felt kind of bad for them and it made me wonder if they were modern day Bob Cratchits and if their boss was a latter day Ebenezer Scrooge not wanting to have his pocked picked every 25th of December.

On the other hand, seeing them at work was a good reminder that this day, this season that we celebrate isn’t just about lights and glitter and tinsel and presents, it’s not a fairy tale that takes place in a magic land far, far away, it’s the story of God becoming part of this world, this world with all its associated messiness, a world where trash accumulates and has to be disposed of, even on Christmas morning. It’s a world where life goes on.

The trappings and sentimentality and commercialism of the season along with all the associated activities and parties can serve as a distraction from normal life at this time of year, hopefully a pleasant distraction, but they’re not an escape from the world just as the Incarnation was not an escape. God’s plan, strange as it might seem, was the opposite of an escape.

The plan was not to avoid this world nor was the plan to take us out of it. Instead, the plan was for God to enter fully into this world that he created and called good, this world that he refuses to give up on. The plan was for God to become part of this world in order to transform it. But the way the story is told, the entrance wasn’t through the channels of power that one might expect, it was through a frightened and insignificant young couple, in a stable, announced to shepherds who, like my trash collectors, had to work on Christmas morning.

That’s one dimension of the story, the down to earth dimension set in the reality of that time. It’s good to be reminded of ordinary people in the midst of the mundane reality of census taking and taxes. That is an important dimension...but that’s not all there is. What we celebrate tonight takes us beyond these ordinary circumstances, beyond the mere remembering of events that happened a long time ago, beyond the celebration of a birthday even if it is the birth of the Son of God. What we celebrate tonight is the mystery of human nature being joined to the divine!

Back on the First Sunday of Advent we heard the prophet Isaiah say, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.” That’s not exactly what we get tonight; like us, Isaiah probably imagined and would have written a different, more dramatic entry for the Son of God, something other than this birth in a stable to a frightened young couple, something that would have caused the mountains to quake so that the whole world would sit up and take notice. Nonetheless, in this more humble birth, the heavens are torn open and God does come down.

In his telling of it Luke conveys the earthly aspect of things with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds along with the mention of “important” people like Emperor Augustus, Quirinius and King Herod. But news about the divine becoming human does require another dimension, the divine dimension of majesty and wonder, and in Luke’s story that dimension is provided by the angels: “Suddenly there was a multitude of angels praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace among those whom he favors.”

Angels kind of hover around this whole story, mostly offering words intended to ease the fears of those involved in this unlikely birth, but then…suddenly…one angel isn’t enough! This is news that requires a multitude and it requires more than the kind of announcement or decree that emperors and kings and presidents make in order to enforce their will. This calls for poetry and song that cut through the mundane and the ordinary, through the world of decrees about the census and taxes, through and beyond the world where trash needs to be collected on Christmas morning.

The angels, with their song, announce something new. What they announce doesn’t replace the reality of the world in which the people of that time lived, or the reality of the world in which we live; life does go one, but this event does begin to transform the world as the heavens are torn open and the divine becomes part of this world in the person of this baby whose birth we remember tonight.

The Christmas Eve question then becomes, “Who can hear the voice of the angels, the voice that announces the new reality that the baby represents?” It’s not a question that Luke raises directly, but in how he tells the story there clearly are those who hear and those who don’t. Emperor Augustus and Quirinius and Herod can’t hear the voice and don’t want to because they aren’t interested in any new realities. They already knew what they wanted to know. The old reality was serving them quite well.

The shepherds though, they receive the message and they hear the song. They might have missed it, not because the old reality was serving them well because it wasn’t; they might have missed it because they could have been resigned to things as they were with no hope for change. But…perhaps having had many hours of gazing at the beauty of the night sky, they hadn’t lost the capacity to wonder; they heard the angels and they heard the possibility of something new. They still had to go back to work on Christmas morning, but they knew that something was different.

Can you hear the angels? That’s still the Christmas Eve question. If you can, the story you hear tonight is just the beginning of a much greater story, the ongoing story of God’s transforming work in this world. Tonight is just the beginning of the story, and what a story it is!

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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