Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Christmas Eve 12/24/2019

I wrote my December newsletter article not about keeping Christ in Christmas which is what you usually hear, but instead I wrote about keeping the Mass in Christmas, in other words to make sure that worship is part of your Christmas celebration which would also have the effect of keeping Christ in Christmas. You’ve all done that; you’re here which indicates to me that you know that Christmas is about more than presents, not that giving and receiving presents is bad. It also means you know that Christmas is about more than Hallmark movie sentimentality, not that all such sentimentality is bad either; it’s part of what makes Christmas the special time it is.

It’s also not to say that Christmas Eve worship is without sentiment. The story from Luke, the familiar hymns and carols, Silent Night by candlelight; there’s sentiment in all of that. It might very well be that it’s that kind of sentiment that brings you here tonight; but I would like to think, in fact I’m going to think that because you’re here, with or without sentiment, you know that there is more going on.

I came across an article that made reference to a sermon Martin Luther delivered on the afternoon of Christmas Day, 1531. He had already preached that morning on Luke’s Christmas story, the story I just read which for us is always the gospel for Christmas Eve. So he started his afternoon sermon by saying, “Earlier today we heard the Christmas story and what it’s about. Enough of that. Now you will hear how to make use of it,” which I think was his way of getting at the “more” of the Christmas story. From there he began to preach on the same Isaiah text that we had as our first reading tonight.

In his context, maybe Luther was right in how he approached things. For us though, On Christmas Eve I don’t think we want to be in too big a rush to leave the Christmas story behind. We don’t have to say, “Enough of that.” Luther’s right; we’ve all heard the story many times in many ways; we know it well. But on Christmas Eve it still has the ability to enchant us and there’s no need to snap you out of that enchantment right away.

For me, that’s always the temptation, to think I’ve got to analyze the story for you and provide some new insight even though I know there really aren’t any, or, maybe like Luther, to think I have to tell you how to make use of the story. But then I pause and say, not tonight; there’s the rest of the year to do that. The “more” I want to deal with tonight is the more of a different kind of truth and a different reality, a truth and a reality that don’t need to be over analyzed because the usual modes of analysis don’t do it justice anyway.

Of all the stories in the Bible, this one from Luke that tells of Jesus’ birth evokes a sense of wonder and mystery that, at least for awhile, enables us to engage this different sense of truth and reality. You know though that for many truth is limited to “the facts” and what logic and reason tell us is possible. On Christmas Eve though, what Luke does very well is to move us beyond that kind of truth and into the wonder and imagination of divine truth.

He starts his account though in the world we know, the factual world of government and census and taxation, the world where emperors and governors rule, emperors and governors like Caesar Augustus and Quirinius. That is one kind of reality and Luke starts there but he doesn’t linger there. He doesn’t deny that reality; he acknowledges it but he doesn’t linger there because what he really wants to do is to move us into something different, a reality and a truth beyond the reach of the likes of Augustus and Quirinius, a reality that is the realm of shepherds and angels and angel choirs choirs along with the glory of the Lord and miraculous births.

In that realm we disengage the analytical side of our brain and with imagination we engage a different truth. It’s a truth that tells us of a God who is so committed to this world and its people that he becomes part of it. It’s a God who inspired Luke to tell the story of Jesus’ birth in a way that would forever enchant those willing to be enchanted no matter how many times they’ve heard it.

That’s what we do on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve we are invited into and become part of this different realm, one which reveals a truth that is different from, but no less true than that provided by the facts of logic and reason. As I get older, more and more I find that this is the realm and this is the truth that causes life to make sense, a realm and a truth that provide hope in a world that desperately needs it. It’s a world of stories and images that convey the love and the grace of God, love and grace that amazed the shepherds, love and grace that Mary pondered in her heart.

What Luke does with his story of Jesus’ birth is, is to shine a light into darkness. Light shining in darkness is a familiar biblical image, one that is also part of tonight’s Isaiah reading, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” It’s an image that John uses in his prologue which is the gospel for Christmas morning, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Lights shining in darkness don’t have to be analyzed; they just have to be seen and enjoyed like lights on a Christmas tree and other Christmas lights that brighten the dark December nights. Without explanation, such lights make us happy and can also convey a sense of peace and comfort. Sometimes a single candle shining in the darkness can convey a sense of awe; it is appropriate that lights shining in darkness are a big part of our Christmas celebration.

What Luke does with words is to describe God bringing light into this world in the person of the Christ child in order that people would emerge from darkness and come to understand their identity as children of God. He describes the glory of the Lord shining around the shepherds but in our imagination we can also see whatever light was available in a dark stable shining on the face of Mary and on the baby lying in the manger, radiant beams from your holy face; those images are part of the wonder of the story.

In his 1531 Christmas sermon, Luther focused on verse 6 of the Isaiah reading: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.” Luke echoes those words when the angel says, “To you is born this day in the city of David, a savior.” The words, “for us” were a big part of Luther’s theology not just at Christmastime, but all the time. He never ceased to be amazed and awed and comforted by the personal nature of those words, for us and to us. “For whom was he conceived and born?” Luther asked, “For whom did he suffer and die? For us, for us, for us! Always for us!”

May each of us hear those words “For us,” directed to us personally. May we always be as awed and comforted by them as was Luther. They too are part of the different truth of Christmas, a big part of the “more” of Christmas. So,don’t leave the story behind too quickly because, “To you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ 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
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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