Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Christmas Eve 12/24/2010

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds are ready to go and make known what they have seen and what they have heard about this baby, but Mary treasures and ponders.  Treasuring words and pondering them in our hearts is still kind of what we do at the late service on Christmas Eve.  The Greek word translated as treasured means to keep in mind or hold on to; the word translated as ponder means to reflect upon or to converse with someone about the meaning.  Again, isn’t that what we do tonight? 

For many, the busy-ness of the season doesn’t leave them much time to treasure and ponder.  They’re busy with shopping and decorating and cooking and baking and partying, wrapping and mailing presents, things like that.  For others, maybe there’s too much time to ponder, except what they ponder isn’t what it all means but instead they ponder what used to be, the people who have been part of Christmas who aren’t around anymore, maybe they ponder the magical feeling of Christmas past, magic that becomes pretty hard to recapture after you reach a certain age, maybe they ponder the fact that they’re not very happy in this season of joy to the world.

Tonight though, one hopes that it’s different for those of you who venture out late on Christmas Eve.  Maybe in the quiet of this night it does give you a chance to block out the distractions of the season, whatever they are, good and bad, and to reflect on the story so familiar yet new each time you hear it. 

Of course, what we reflect on, what we ponder isn’t exactly the same as what Mary pondered.  She had just had a baby and one would think that like any new mother, her pondering would be focused on this gift of life that she holds in her arms or sees lying on the straw in the manger.  For her, what she ponders is not a familiar story like what we think about tonight.  For Mary, it’s all new, it’s different.  Now focused on this baby, her life is going to be different in ways that she can’t possibly know, but that’s the case, that’s true for any new mother.

All that would have been part of Mary’s pondering, pondering not unlike that of any new mother, but she also had to reflect back on the words she had heard from the angel nine months ago, words telling her that by the power of the Holy Spirit she would have this baby who would be called the Son of God.  She had to be thinking about the shepherds who had just been there and the story they told which becomes more like the story that we too think about tonight, a story of angels and singing and a baby wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a manger, a baby who would be the Messiah of Israel.

What Mary pondered had to be a little different than what we ponder because she was in the middle of it; this event, this story directly involved her.  Maybe though, in some ways we’re not so different; because this story directly involves us too.  We’re obviously not in the middle of it the way Mary was and things were revealed to her in ways that we are not part of, but on the other hand, there’s things that Mary couldn’t have known about the child born to her that have been revealed to us and with those revelations we do become involved especially because we find that this story is for us.  Ultimately it is a story about God, but it’s also about us.  It’s a story for us because it’s about God’s commitment to us.

On Christmas Eve, we love to hear the story and it is always a story that has the power to touch us with sentiment and memories.  But what we ponder is the mystery.  John Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers, archbishop of Constantinople around the year 400 and regarded as the greatest preacher of the early church puts it this way, “I behold a new and wondrous mystery.  My ears resound to the shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.  The angels sing.  The archangels blend their voice in harmony.  The cherubim hymn their joyful praise.  The seraphim exalt his glory.  All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven.  He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised up.”

Therein lies the mystery; He who is above, Jesus, now dwells here below.  Those who were lowly, which is us, are by divine mercy raised up.  In the past God had acted on his creation, but now he enters into it and becomes part of it taking on our human nature so that we can participate in his divine nature.  Again, this is about us because it’s for us and as Chrysostom also says, “Ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields.”  Part of the wonder of the mystery revealed on this night through the ever familiar story is that we don’t ask how.  For awhile we dwell in the story and the carols and the beauty of lights shining in the darkness, for awhile we dwell in the mystery and in fact become part of the mystery.

With Mary tonight, we ponder all this; we ponder in wonder and amazement, but I hope we also ponder in joy and I would hope that in joy, we celebrate which is more the response of the shepherds as they glorified and praised God for all they had heard and seen.  The Christmas season is a time of celebration and for many it has been going on for several weeks now. That’s OK; it’s not what Christmas is all about but the fellowship and sense of goodwill can help serve to get you there.  So pre-Christmas celebration is OK so long as you don’t get to Christmas Eve so tired and/or frazzled that you’re just glad it’s almost over but I know for some that is the case.  Christmas preparation and celebration becomes a test of endurance and the joy gets sucked out of the season at least in part because the celebration winds up focused on the wrong things.

One hopes though, that this late night brings with it a quiet sense of joy that gets past the secular and commercial aspects of Christmas and celebrates the fact that God has assumed our human nature in love.  That was the message revealed to the shepherds.  The story made known to them and the story we hear tonight begins the process by which God restores his relationship with us because he would not and will not give up on us.  That’s worth pondering, but it’s also worth celebrating. 

On this Christmas Eve let us find room for the Christ child in our hearts and may his presence there be a source of wonder for us as it was for Mary.   But as was the case for the shepherds, may his presence also be a source of joy and celebration.

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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