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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Christmas 1/3

It’s a new year, 2010; we’ve got ten years in already in the 2000’s.  So Happy New Year, let’s hope it’s a good one, without any tears in the words of John Lennon.  Actually though, from a faith perspective hope is an appropriate place for us to begin a new calendar year, maybe the only place to begin. 

As 09 came to an end there were the usual end of the year look backs, highlights and lowlights, best of and worst of lists and with the end of a decade the same kind of thing was done with the first ten years of this new millennium.  It can get a bit tiresome and much of it is just opinion anyway, opinion which passes for news these days, but looking back at a year or a decade is useful because it can help to remind us that it wasn’t all bad. 

Despite the fact that many of the major news stories of the last ten years were bad, 9/11, Katrina and other natural disasters, war in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, the collapse of the economy, despite all that, all of us can think of good things that have happened in our lives, births, weddings, graduations, celebrations, good books you’ve read, things you’ve enjoyed in the world of entertainment, vacations, trips, games or just plain old nice days, whatever the season, all of which is evidence that things still hold together, we continue to be blessed, life goes on.  There is evil out there, but a reflective look back is a reminder that that’s not all there is and…that evil won’t prevail.  We can and should begin the year in hope and the lessons for today certainly help us to set that tone.

In Jeremiah, the Lord says to sing aloud, raise shouts, proclaim and give praise because…there is hope.  This is another of those prophetic texts that looks beyond judgment.  As the people have been scattered, they will be gathered and this text attributes both actions to the Lord.  There is a word of caution there to be sure with the suggestion that the Lord has limits, but the judgment in response to those limits is not final.  There will be a gathering of what has been scattered.

Psalm 147 is a psalm that praises God for the good order of creation.  Psalmists and other poets for thousands of years have found hope in the dependability and the wonder of creation, evidence that what God has created still works. 

The prologue to John’s gospel is one of the most beautiful, hopeful texts in the entire Bible.  It is dense with theology, the gist of which is that God cared enough about humanity to not just send messengers, but to finally become one of us and dwell here thus transforming humanity giving us the power to become children of God.  There’s a lot of wonder and mystery in all that, but it represents the same kind of hope that Jeremiah proclaimed.  This God will not leave humanity scattered and broken, separated from the love of God.  There is hope.  There is always hope and from God’s side, that’s a promise.

What I really want to focus on though is the text from Ephesians because what it does is similar in a way to what we do at the end of year or a decade in that it looks back on what God has done but it also looks to God’s future.  It starts though with praise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and it is from that posture of praise that the rest of this passage should be read because in essence this is poetry, poetry that sings and offers praise rather than prose which discusses and analyzes.  As focused as we Lutherans are on scripture and interpretation we can sometimes get too analytical, trying to figure everything out.  Sometimes it is good to stop thinking so much and just offer praise.

This passage starts with praise and then while it doesn’t offer explanation it does provide some reasons, starting with praising God for election; “he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world;” “he destined us for adoption.”  And maybe you say, “Wait a minute; let’s talk about that; sounds like predestination, that it’s all been decided.” 

You’re right; there is theological grist for the mill here, but not today.  Today let’s stay with notion that the earliest Christians were not concerned with debating predestination vs. free will and choice.  The early church celebrated the sovereignty, the power and majesty of God and that’s what’s going on here.  The author of this letter, either Paul or one of his followers, is celebrating and praising God for caring enough about humanity to choose us and make us part of his plan, to provide us with a destiny we don’t deserve and would not otherwise have apart from the sovereign grace of God.  These are hopeful words, hopeful words that look back on what God has done, so for today, let’s save the predestination debate for another time and just join in that praise.

The next set of verses offers praise for redemption through Jesus Christ and again it is not an argument about how that happens it is an affirmation of what is believed about redemption, most specifically the forgiveness it includes, the abundance of God’s grace that is revealed.  What it really does is offer praise for what we believe about God, that by nature the God we worship is a forgiving God and that his forgiving grace is wide enough to include all of us.  I need to know that.  Again there are lots of theological questions that can come out of this and I don’t know if I understand all the questions or all the answers, but I believe in the grace and forgiveness of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and what a source of hope that is!  It’s all I need to offer praise for what God is doing today and every day.

But there’s more.  Looking back, there are reasons to praise God for what has been done.  Looking at the present there are reasons to praise God for lots of things, but especially for the forgiveness we experience every day.  But we can also look to the future and there’s more.  We already participate in the promises of God but there is a completion, a fulfillment that has not happened yet.  What this is, is God’s future, in which God will gather up all things in heaven and on earth, in the fullness of time.  That’s the plan.  Not a lot of detail; but that’s the plan of the God who has blessed, chosen, destined, lavished and made known.  We have been promised an inheritance which is a source of hope, and ample reason for even more praise. 

This is a good way to start the new year and the new decade.  In terms of national and world news and church news the last ten years have been rough.  There’s talk that we’re in the beginning of the end of the American empire, that this empire will fall like every other one has.  That may or may not be true but as people of faith, whichever way it goes, we can still offer praise trusting that God is always at work, changing things, making things new. 

There are also those who see the church in decline, headed in the wrong dierction and as far as the church as we know it goes, at least according to the numbers, it’s hard to argue with that.  But again, I trust that God is at work, changing things, making things new.  As a nation, as a church we don’t have to try and retreat to the past (which doesn’t work anyway) but like Jeremiah, like the author of Ephesians we can look to the future in hope and in praise, in expectation of something new.

The entire biblical narrative is an honest journey through the ups and downs of humanity’s relationship with God and there is a some that is upsetting and disturbing; but the downs, the judgment and the consequences are always followed by new chances, new possibilities and in the New Testament the Christian story doesn’t end with Good Friday, it finally culminates in the new life of the resurrection.  With this as our sacred text we have no choice; we have to come back to hope and praise.

That’s where I choose to start 2010.

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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