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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Christmas Day 12/25/2012

Christmas Day worship always kind of feels to me a little bit like a party after most everyone has gone home.  You’re left with a small group of people who aren’t quite ready to let it go, people who are comfortable with each other just quietly talking, thinking about things.  It doesn’t happen to me much anymore.  These days I’m usually one of the first to leave any parties I’m invited to #1 because it’s past my bedtime and #2 because you can’t have much fun when the pastor is around, but I remember a much younger version of me being part of such gatherings at two or three in the morning with just a few other people and it could be then that you really got honest and maybe a little vulnerable, and talked about what was most important.

Well, here we are, tired and a little bleary eyed perhaps after last night, but we’re here.  It’s a pretty similar group every year, but we come back and maybe it’s because in some ways, in the quiet of Christmas morning, we do talk about what is most important.  We move from the gospel of Luke to the gospel of John and with that the tone and the mood of things really shifts.  The excitement and festivity and celebration of Christmas Eve has died down, and with John we take Christmas to a different place.

One of the questions that comes up relative to John’s gospel is did the author know about the other gospels?  It’s generally accepted that John is the last of the gospels to be written, at least 20 years later than Matthew, Mark or Luke, so one would think copies of the others were floating around out there so that John would have had a chance to read them.  And yet, the way John chooses to tell his story of Jesus is very different from the others apart from the fact that the overall structure of his gospel is quite similar.

I wonder about this relative to the Christmas story because you would think if John knew Luke’s story, which is the one that captures our imagination on Christmas Eve, you would think if John knew that story he would use at least some of it, that he’d adapt it in some way, because it is such a great story.  But he doesn’t.  I guess that means that either he didn’t know it or he thought, that’s nice but there are other things I want to say.

Those other things are what we always get on Christmas morning; it’s part of the Christmas morning difference.  Rather than retell the story of Jesus’ birth, John begins with a retelling of the creation story, repeating the same words that begin Genesis, “In the beginning…”  With that, Jesus’ birth then takes on a more cosmic dimension representing not so much a restart of creation but a reinterpretation of creation, with Jesus, the Word, at the center; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

For John, just telling the story of Jesus’ birth isn’t enough.  As wonderful as Luke’s version is, for John it’s not enough unless we understand just who the child is, and who he is is not a new creation, but God himself, the creator, there from the beginning, but now, fully becoming part of creation. 

For us this doesn’t come as a shock.  We know that the church has defined Jesus as being fully human and fully divine.  We may not understand exactly how that works, but as a matter of faith we accept it.  In John’s time though, there were no such doctrines, that hadn’t happened yet, a lot of things were still open for debate; but clearly the beliefs about who Jesus was, in some fashion involved him being more than human. 

Early believers knew that God had gotten involved in human history before, working through an assortment of characters to reveal his will and his plans.  Others, most notably the prophets, had been inspired by God to speak words of comfort as well as caution and sometimes judgment.  But the beliefs surrounding Jesus were different; he wasn’t just another character in the story, he wasn’t just another prophet.  Those who followed Jesus believed he was different.

Luke wrote a very human story of Jesus’ birth, locating it in the messy midst of the world and its politics, somewhat on the fringes of things in unlikely places and among people of no significance who in various ways represented the unsavory least of these.  That’s Luke’s story.  John however takes a different approach, starting instead with the divine. 

It’s from John that we come to most fully understand the divine dimension of Jesus and obviously it’s a dimension that becomes important to Christian doctrine.  But John doesn’t just give us a cosmic, otherworldly Jesus.  The divine is important to him but so is the fact that “The Word became flesh and lived among us.”  John doesn’t ignore the humanity of Jesus, he just tells it differently emphasizing the fact that the human Jesus, the Word made flesh, is the same as the cosmic divine Word, that brought creation into being.

This is heavy stuff.  It’s important stuff as it gets to the heart of what Christmas is about and what Christian faith is about but like those late night parties, most people have gone home.  They’re not around for this part of the conversation and that’s OK; I understand the attraction of Christmas Day traditions for many people.  But I think it’s good that at least some of us come back and talk about these things, so let’s keep going.

John tells us about the incarnation of the Word, he tells us about the divine and the human dimensions of this Word made flesh all of which is important.  He uses the imagery of light shining in the darkness which is evocative and powerful imagery that resurfaces throughout his gospel.  But he also tells us that this isn’t just about God’s identity; it’s about our identity as we are given the power to become children of God.  In this prologue to John’s gospel we get information about God, which is good, but it becomes even more meaningful with the possibilities it holds for us.  As the Word takes on our human nature in this birth, that very nature, our nature, is touched by the divine.  That’s John’s good news for us on Christmas morning.

John tells the same story as Luke, he just tells it differently.  But it’s still the story of God’s decisive turn toward this world but John makes the implications of that turn even clearer for us in announcing our new identity as children of God.  With the birth of Jesus, our identity that has been tarnished by sin and brokenness is also touched by the divine and it’s all done from God’s side; we’ve done nothing to earn it or deserve it.  From his fullness we have received grace upon grace.

That’s the truth of Christmas.  It’s truth worth sharing, so I’m glad you’re here.  Merry 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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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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