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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Christmas Day 12/25

On the face of it, it was a pretty ordinary night in Bethlehem.  The village was more crowded than usual with Roman officials conducting a census to make sure the tax dollars kept flowing for the emperor, but other than that people went about their normal routines.  Shepherds out in the fields around Bethlehem stomped their feet to keep warm and gossiped amongst themselves to stay awake through the night watch.  A poor young woman in town for the census had a baby; probably not the circumstances she would have preferred, but not all that unusual.  All in all a mostly ordinary night, nothing that would make the news except maybe some unusual occurrences in the night sky.  Mostly an ordinary night, but that’s the night which we celebrate as Christmas, as God becoming human in the baby born to that young woman.

          It’s really not until Christmas morning though, that we reflect on the fact that the night wasn’t so ordinary after all.  It’s this morning that we begin to come to terms with the cosmic nature of this birth.  So on Christmas Eve we tell the story; on Christmas Day with the help of a different set of biblical writers we think more about what it means.  If Luke’s telling of the story evokes a sense of childlike wonder at the baby Jesus lying in the manger, the Christmas Day lessons are intended to evoke more of a sense of awe at the exalted status of Christ and his superiority over all other contenders for human praise.    

          The gospel for Christmas Day is always John’s prologue, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”  Arguably the most beautiful and profound words in the entire Bible; we could do worse than to just sit and ponder these words in our heart for awhile as Mary did with the words of the shepherds last night. 

          Not too far down the list of beautiful and profound Bible verses though are those that begin the letter to the Hebrews, today’s second lesson.  The first four bear repeating.

          In the original Greek those four verses are one long complicated sentence full of participles and dependent clauses and such, but grammatically, the main clause and the main point is that God has spoken to us by a Son.  What’s significant about that is the fact that it is God who acts; it is God who takes the initiative.  This story both last night and this morning is not a story of humanity’s search for the divine nor is it about a search for some divine insight.  It’s a story of God searching for us, not us searching for God.   It is the story of a God who takes action, a God who speaks. 

Now, to be sure, God speaking is not a new thing in the Bible.  Starting in Genesis 1, God speaks the world into existence and from there God speaks through dreams and visions, through angels, through a burning bush, through storms and earthquakes…and through the prophets as the writer of Hebrews mentions.  In many and various ways, or as another translation says, in many fragments and fashions, God speaks the world into being, he speaks a people into being and then he speaks to provide instruction and sometimes reproach for those people.

          Speech though, creates relationship.  In these many and various ways God is inviting relationship with the world and the people he has created.  In speaking by a Son, from God’s side, the relationship takes on even greater meaning.  From God’s side, the desire for relationship is intensified as God becomes one of us.

          That divine desire for relationship is worthy of consideration on a quiet Christmas morning.  You could say that we are not who we are supposed to be without being in relationship with God, but you could also say that God is not who God is supposed to be without being in relationship with us and all of creation.  The doctrine of the Trinity gets pretty complicated, but what it describes is a relational God; even internally God is described by the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  By nature, God wants relationship.

We’re perhaps more likely to think of any relationship from our side though, but from experience we know how it feels to hope to get to know someone or have a relationship or to hope someone likes you and then how good it feels when you find out it’s reciprocal, it’s both ways; the other person feels the same way.  The Word becoming flesh, God speaking to us by a son are about a divine desire for relationship…and the remarkable thing about this relationship is that while we are not an equal partner, it is not a relationship which is restricted to praise and thanksgiving from our side.  That’s part of what we do, but as God enters our world fully as a human being, it implies entrance into all that it is to be human, including those times when we don’t feel much like praise and thanksgiving.

          But hopefully today isn’t one of those times we don’t much feel like praise.  It’s Christmas after all!  The Psalms are the best biblical literature we have on the divine/human relationship and all the emotions it can include and the psalm for today is Psalm 98 which is categorized as an enthronement Psalm offering praise for victory and for the reign of a new king.  What this psalm does today is to tie the cosmic scope of all the lessons together…ying them together with praise…as the lessons uncover the full identity of the baby we left lying in the manger last night.

          Psalm 98 starts with language of a military victory which might grate a little bit against Christmas images of the Prince of Peace and peace on earth, but the victory here seems to refer not to any traditional battle but to the saving events of Israel’s history, the exodus and the return from exile.  On Christmas though, as Christian pray-ers of this psalm, we celebrate the birth of Christ as another part of God’s plan of salvation.  And…on Christmas day…the final verses of the Psalm become a summons to praise, singing accompanied by trumpet and horn and lyre, praise offered by all of creation, the sea, the world, the floods, and the hills; fields and flood, rocks, hills and plain, in the interpretation of Isaac Watts who used these verses in writing Joy to the World; let heaven and nature sing.

          God has spoken to us by a Son, and so we and all of creation respond in praise for the relationship this speech creates.  It’s a relationship that places us safely in God’s care.  According to Hebrews and to John’s gospel, Jesus is God’s first Word, through whom the rest of creation was brought into being.  The power of Jesus’ word continues to sustain all things in the present and… Jesus also represents the future; he is also God’s last word. He’s the heir, the one who inherits all things.  On Christmas morning then, we know that our lives are not futile and meaningless.  We are part of this divine order, part of the treasured inheritance of the Son of God, with whom we are in relationship and to whom we belong, today and always.                        


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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