Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Day 12/25/2019

“In the beginning was the Word,” says John. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. In the beginning was the Word; in Greek word is logos, and logos is a word that defies a one word translation. According to those who know much more than I do, logos, while being a Greek word, resonates with Jewish traditions about the power and wisdom of God and also with philosophical teachings concerning the energy that shapes the universe. I’m not really sure what all that means except that it tells me that logos is a word that carries a lot of weight.

John would have known all that when he chose to use it in his prologue and especially when he identified Jesus as the Word, the Logos made flesh. Simply by using that word, he makes it pretty clear that what he is writing about in his gospel is more than information about the latest in a long line of prophets. John’s intention is much loftier than that; his intention, like the intention of Luke last night, is to take us into a different realm or maybe a better way to put it is to say that he’s bringing a different realm to us, into our world as this Logos becomes flesh and dwells among us.

All of which may be ideas that are loftier than anything any of us really want to deal with on a quiet Christmas morning after what was a late night for many of us. In the cycle of Advent and Christmas worship services Christmas morning has something of a morning after, sigh of relief feeling to it, like the heavy work is done. After all, the anticipation of Advent culminates on Christmas Eve; in most churches that’s the big deal, but even on Christmas Eve, worship evolves.

Attendance wise, the early service has become the big one, and for those of us who plan and prepare the worship services, it winds up being the most stressful. The late service, in part, simply by being later has a different feel to it. The gathering is smaller and for me anyway, it’s more worshipful, kind of like a pressure valve has been released. And then today that progression toward tranquility continues on the quiet of Christmas morning with only a faithful remnant present; it’s definitely more relaxed. For those of you who attend all three services and there are quite a few of you, I think you’d agree with me that Christmas Day worship is different.

We come here knowing that, except in the hymns, we’re not going to get shepherds and angels, Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. But, are we really ready for the theological immensity and beauty of John’s prologue containing as it does some of our most difficult theological assertions? It is beautiful and poetic but it also asks us to believe what many would find unbelievable, the notion that God became human. The evidence is pretty clear that Jesus was a great teacher and prophet; I don’t think many people would dispute that. But the idea that Jesus is God made flesh does leave many people behind.

From there it gets even more complicated, saying that the Word, the Logos, Jesus existed before time began. Jesus was there before the beginning, before anything was anything, hand in hand as it were, with the Father as the world was created. It is a bold and difficult theological assertion, a lot to absorb on Christmas morning and I get the idea that John knew that. He didn’t know that this would be the gospel for Christmas morning worship but he had to know that what he proclaimed wasn’t easy. But note that neither here nor really in the rest of his gospel, does he try to explain what he says. Instead, he uses images and stories and dialogues not to explain, but to continue to reveal the different realm of which he writes, that realm being, the realm of the divine, the realm of which Jesus is a part.

The unbelievable claim of John again though, is that from the world of the divine, the Word also became part of this world. As Martin Luther unpacked this he described it as the finite being capable of containing the infinite meaning that despite the seeming impossibility of it, God, the infinite, could be present in the finite flesh and blood of a human being.

For me, one of the great strengths of Luther’s theology is his tolerance for paradox and ambiguity, things like law and gospel, that we’re simultaneously saints and sinners, that a Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all subject to none and a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all, things like that. Rather than smoothing out these paradoxes, he allows them to exist. The finite capable of containing the infinite is another such paradox and this understanding of the Incarnation was significant for Luther, especially in his understanding of Christ’s real presence in Holy Communion: if the divine being of God could be fully present in the person of Jesus, then Christ could be fully present in the bread and wine of Communion; again the finite could hold the infinite.

In words almost as lofty as John’s Luther described the impact of the Incarnation this way: “God is substantially present everywhere, in and through all creatures, in all their parts and places, so that the world is full of God and He fills all…His own divine essence can be in all creatures collectively and in each one individually more profoundly, more intimately, more present than the creature is in itself.” Luther also says, “These are all exceedingly incomprehensible matters,” although I think we probably knew that without him telling us.

Another way to think about “In the beginning was the Word,” is to say that in the beginning is God’s act of communication. Without communication, God is unknowable. For a relationship to be established, God must disclose something of himself. That disclosure comes in part through scripture but it comes most fully in the person of Jesus. Before him and after him there have been and are many who say things about God, but only Jesus was God, the Word made flesh. In his life, death and resurrection, the communication we get is not just information about God, we are invited into a relationship. Most significantly, it’s a relationship that makes us children of God. As John says, “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

Amid the lofty theology of John and of Luther, on Christmas morning, the words about being children of God are perhaps the words we most need to hear. The Word, the Logos made flesh begins a new chapter in our understanding of God, a new chapter in our relationship with God. In and through Christ we are children of God and that is good news of great joy for all people.

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
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welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
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