Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Christmas Day 12/25/2011

Christmas worship in the daytime always feels different to me than Christmas worship at night.  What we celebrate is the same, but there’s a different mood to it.  In part I think it’s because a lot of the imagery of this season has to do with light shining in the darkness and of course the Christmas lights around town and in our homes and here at church all witness to that.  It’s easy to dwell in the imagery of light shining in darkness late at night on Christmas Eve or even at the four o’clock service as the darkness is gathering, but it’s harder in the daylight (although perhaps not so hard in cloudy daylight like we have today, but work with me here).

For Christmas day there is more of this light imagery as we always have the text from the first chapter of John, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”   But what about the daylight?  Does that overcome it?

Part of the difference in how we experience Christmas worship today vs. last night is due to the fact that, for most of us, our emotions and memories aren’t connected much, if at all, to Christmas Day church.  I know that for me, growing up, Christmas Day was about opening the presents and having a big meal; it wasn’t about church.  Even when Christmas fell on a Sunday like it does this year, we didn’t go; so I never went to a Christmas Day service until I was about 30, having driven home to Massachusetts on Christmas Eve after going to services at the church I was attending in New Hampshire.  My father though, had signed up to be an usher on Christmas morning. I think he had probably signed up by accident because I don’t think he’d ever been to church on Christmas Day either, but being who he was if he signed up to do something, he was going to do it.  I went along just so he didn’t have to go alone, and I liked it.

I liked the quiet and I liked the smaller crowd; much smaller.  It was much more intimate and had the effect of stripping away the external trappings of Christmas.  Now many of those trappings are very nice, but on Christmas morning at church they do get stripped away, at least for awhile,  thus emphasizing the day as a continuation of the celebration of the Incarnation as opposed to just marking the end of all the other things that come into this season.

Prior to going to church that first time on Christmas Day I don’t think I knew that the Christmas Day gospel was different.  It wasn’t a re-run of Luke 2 and it wasn’t Matthew’s version of the birth story either; none of the familiar elements of what we know as the Christmas Story.  Instead it was the opening verses of John which don’t take Jesus back to a manger in Bethlehem; they take him back to the beginning, with God before creation.  Luke wrote a very human story that touches us in very deep and emotional ways; John though, invites us to consider the Incarnation more from God’s perspective, a perspective which extends beyond time. 

John was written later than the other gospels so there had been another 25 or 30 years of life among followers of Jesus.  During that time there was further consideration and thought about who Jesus was based on how his presence had influenced their lives.  There’s a lot that we don’t know about John’s community but it was definitely one that understood the Spirit of Jesus to be active among them and clearly there was the belief that he was more than a martyred prophet; he was a living presence.  His death, that seemed to mark an ending, was instead a beginning, a surprising victory rather than a defeat.  Their experience of his continued presence among them, his revelation to them following his resurrection led them to believe that Jesus was divine, that, strange as it seemed, he was the revelation of the one true God, the exact imprint of God’s very being. 

So while Luke tells a very human story of a baby born in real time into the reality of this world, John tells the same story in a different way, with emphasis on the divine essence of Jesus from the beginning, from eternity.  We need both dimensions and of course both dimensions, human and divine, become part of how we understand Jesus, or maybe understand is the wrong word, because what it really represents is mystery, the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh. 

Both stories, John and Luke, do include prominent light imagery and as I said, in some ways it’s imagery that is better experienced at night.  In the daytime though there are aspects of this imagery to consider.  At night, the lights of Christmas are points of light, shining in the dark and with that we can imagine Jesus as such a light, shining into the darkness and sin and brokenness of the world.  It’s a powerful and helpful way to think about him. 

During the day however, that doesn’t work so well.  Christmas lights become lights shining in the light, which doesn’t quite have the same effect.  But…the dominant light during the day is the sun.  The sun doesn’t shine in the darkness or through the darkness, it eliminates it, and when it shines it shines on everyone.  Its light falls on everyone, not just on those we would like it to.

In the daytime, the light imagery reminds us of the “for all people” aspect of Jesus’ birth.  In Luke’s story the angel tells the shepherds that he brings good news for all the people.  In John the light that is proclaimed is the light of all people.  That inclusiveness is an important reminder in a world that is divided by so many things.  Even Christmas itself has become divisive as people argue about silly things like Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays as well as about what can and can’t be sung in school concerts, what can and can’t be included in public “holiday” displays.

The light of Christmas however is a unifying light; the light of Christ is for all people.  That’s the message, yet included in that message is the reality that some will believe, some won’t; “The world did not know him; his own people did not accept him.”  That must have been the reality in the community from which John wrote and of course it continues to be the reality, there is still darkness.  But that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is the light for all people, and it doesn’t change the fact that the light will overcome and eliminate the darkness.

With that in mind we can use the imagery of the daytime sunlight eliminating the darkness.  In a sense that imagery takes us to the end of the story that the Incarnation started.  In becoming flesh in the person of Jesus, God acted to change the course of history.  Jesus was a light shining in the darkness, and he still is.  But with the Incarnation, God set the world on a path toward full light.  On Christmas morning, in the daylight, we are reminded of that.  As difficult as it can be to see sometimes, we are confident that the darkness will be overcome, and the full light of Christ will shine on all people.

Christmas Day worship is different; many of you know that because you’ve been here before, but I hope for all of you that the light of this day does shine brightly into your Christmas.

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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