Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Eve 12/24/2018

Whose birthday is it anyway? That’s one of those things you hear as pushback against the secularism and commercialism of Christmas, secularism and commercialism that can rob Christmas of any religious meaning. Unfortunately, such pushback is necessary these days as we try to “Keep Christ in Christmas,” another one of those pushback slogans.

What we celebrate here tonight though is so much more than a birthday remembrance. In fact, of the twenty verses I just read, only one is a report of Jesus’ birth. The rest of the story that Luke tells, the story of Mary and Joseph, the story of angels and shepherds, the story with which we are so familiar, invites us into a different, imaginative and wonder filled reality, a reality that reveals the truth of who Jesus is. It’s really the invitation of the entire Bible, but on Christmas Eve, with this story, it’s my contention that with imaginations more open to the wonder, more people accept the invitation and at least for a little while, their idea of reality is different.

There can be a tendency to think that Luke gives us a nice heartwarming story but that it’s really the opening verses of John’s gospel, verses that will be read tomorrow morning, that get into the theological depth and meaning of the story. Luke does give us a wonderful story. Every year there’s a part of me that says the best thing to do would be to read the story and get out of the way; to just let you dwell in the wonder of it, to ponder these things in your heart as the text says that Mary did. However, the reality into which he invites us with his story is full of theological meaning. It’s meaning that will help in our pondering.

In a way, what Luke does is to redefine time. In the reality of Luke’s Christmas story, time itself is changed; it’s one of things he wants us to think differently about. His story begins, “In those days…” Those days are about the old time, chronological time in which events move sequentially, one day following another, which for most of us is the only way we think about time.

Luke describes the old time using the names of those in power: Augustus was the emperor, Quirinius was governor. It’s a world and a time where people have to be counted and taxes have to be collected, a world where proclamations are made, orders are given and you’d better obey. In other words, it’s business as usual, time shaped by the world’s power structures with things governed by those in positions of authority.

That’s where Luke’s story begins, with Mary and Joseph “in those days” dutifully doing what they were told, fulfilling their civic responsibility, going to Bethlehem to be registered. “In those days” is not where the story ends though. It ends on “this day;” “To you is born ‘this day’ in the city of David, a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord.” We move from “in those days” to “this day” and a new time, a new age is introduced.

It’s no longer business as usual. A new age is introduced that isn’t just a sequence of events, past, present and future, but it’s time shaped by what happened on “this day” and what happened on “this day” was more than a birth. It was God, by grace and love, doing a new thing. It was and is the heavenly realm breaking into the earthly realm, an inbreaking announced not by those in positions of authority, but proclaimed by angels, angels who bring “good news of great joy for all people.”

Good news of great joy for all people; that’s what “this day” is all about. “Those days” however, are governed by fear, hence the angels repeated statement, “Do not be afraid,” a statement made to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, a statement made to Mary when she was told what was going to happen, a statement made to the shepherds who would be the first witnesses of this event.

That’s another thing about “this day:” “Those days” were the domain of those in power, Augustus and Quirinius. “This day” features those thought to be insignificant, people like Mary and Joseph, people like the shepherds. The inclusion of such people might just seem like a quaint detail that helps to make the story conducive to Sunday School pageants, but for Luke, it’s a not so subtle announcement that on “this day,” the old power structures won’t hold because something extraordinary has happened, something beyond the control of those in power. On “this day” there are new possibilities for those for whom new possibilities seemed unlikely.

There is more going on here than the birth of a baby. However, that one verse about the birth that I referenced earlier, verse seven, is the verse on which time shifts. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Before this verse, the story takes place “in those days.” After this verse, “this day” has arrived.

Luke only gives us that one verse about Jesus’ birth. Perhaps though, that’s because “in those days” Jesus birth didn’t make much noise. It was just a more or less ordinary birth to a poor couple in a small, crowded backwater town of the empire. The likes of Augustus and Quirinius would have paid no attention. On “this day” though, we hear the heavenly host of angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” We hear the shepherds glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.

To you is born this day; in Luke’s rendering of time, the past breaks into the present and reveals the future so on “this day” we do more than commemorate a birth that happened a long time ago. Time is changed so that “this day” is today. Luke’s reality brings Jesus into our midst today and in Luke’s rendering of time it’s not just the baby Jesus, it’s the crucified and Risen Christ. Tonight we do more than celebrate a birthday because, as the choir sang Sunday before last, “this child of humble birth will change the world forever, sharing God’s love with all the earth.”

On Christmas Eve, I do think that more people are able to accept the invitation that Luke gives us, the invitation the Bible gives us to imagine reality differently. I came across a poem by Mary Oliver titled The World I Live In. It begins with, “I have refused to live locked in the orderly house of reasons and proofs. The world I live in and believe in is wider than that.” The poem ends with, “Only if there are angels in your head will you ever, possibly, see one.”

It’s a good poem for Christmas Eve because tonight I think many of us do have angels in our head. Let those angels announce to you good news of great joy. “To you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

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
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welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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