Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Christmas Eve - 12/24/2017

Back on the First Sunday of Advent there was the call to the Lord from the prophet Isaiah to “Tear open the heavens and come down so that the mountains would quake at your presence!” Tonight, the call to tear open the heavens is answered, just not in the way that Isaiah anticipated because the story we tell tonight is not a mountains shaking at your presence story, not a God flexing God’s muscles kind of story. Instead we get the humble story of the birth of a baby, an overwhelming bit of evidence that says that God’s ways are not our ways.

Having been created in the image and likeness of God, what was necessary “for us and for our salvation,” what was necessary for our divine image, having been tarnished by sin, to be restored, was for God to assume all that it is to be human. That means not arriving in thunder and lightning, not in a blaze of fiery, mountain quaking glory, but instead it means arriving in the vulnerable flesh of a baby. With the divine having assumed the fullness of our humanity, by grace our humanity is transformed, enabled to participate in the divine, making us who God intended us to be.

That is the theological truth of Christmas, the theological truth of the Incarnation. If the birth of Jesus is just a sentimental story it doesn’t mean much; it’s that theological truth behind the story that saves us, but…we’ve got a whole year to ponder that. Christmas Eve is more of a time just to be lost in the wonder of it all, to hear the familiar story told again, to sing the familiar carols and just to be. Christmas Eve isn’t a time for deep theological thought, in fact, if anything, it’s a night to quiet that thinking part of your brain and to let the emotions and the atmosphere and the rituals help to evoke God’s presence, divine presence made known in this newborn child. “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord.” This day; Christmas Eve isn’t just about remembering something that happened a long time ago, it’s about the present and about God’s presence with us this day.

As we close in on the end of this Reformation 500 year it seems fitting to consider Christmas from the perspective of Martin Luther. Even with all the theological and political tumult that swirled around him Luther apparently had a fondness for the great festivals of the church year, especially Advent and Christmas. Sometimes when you read Luther he comes across as pretty crabby and hard to get along with, not really someone you would want to spend Christmas with. But evidently Christmas mellowed him. One of the many students who boarded at his home said that as Christmas approached, Luther became increasingly cheerful: “All his words and songs and thoughts concerned the incarnation of our Lord.”

Reading some of the things that Luther himself wrote and preached about Advent and Christmas you get some of Luther at his best so I’m going to share some of what he said as he provides good reminders not just of the importance of what we celebrate, but also the wonder of it. For example, “Oh, we poor people that we should be so cold and indifferent to this great joy that has been given us. For this is indeed the greatest gift, which far exceeds all else that God has created. Yet we believe so sluggishly, even though the angels proclaim and preach and sing, and their lovely song sums up the whole Christian faith, for ‘Glory to God in the highest’ is the very heart of worship.” That’s good.

From one of his Christmas sermons preached in 1530. “If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, his birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was rather to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to him. Now he reveals himself to the miserable in order to avoid any impression that he arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners. Instead, he comes to the poor who need a Savior.”

From another of his Christmas sermons he unfolds the familiar story of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem: “The inn was full. No one would release a room to this pregnant woman. She had to go to a cow stall and there bring forth the Maker of all creatures because nobody would give way. Shame on you, wretched Bethlehem! The inn ought to have been burned with brimstone, for even though Mary was of little account, a beggar maid and unwed, anybody at such a time should have been glad to give her a hand.”

Luther continued, “There are many of you in this congregation who think to yourselves: ‘If only I had been there! How quick I would have been to help the baby! I would have washed his linen! How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the manger!’ You say that now because you know how great Christ is, but if you had been there at that time you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem. Childish and silly thoughts are these! Why don’t you do it now? You have Christ in your neighbor. You ought to serve him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ himself.” That is really classic example of good Lutheran theology at Christmastime as Luther first proclaims the good news of the birth of a savior and then comes around to say what our response to that good news should be, that response being, to serve the neighbor.

In another sermon, Luther comments on the faith of the shepherds. “The first and chief item is faith. If these shepherds had not believed the angel, they would not have gone to Bethlehem nor would they have done any of the things told about them in the Gospel. But if anyone should say: Of course, I too, surely would believe if the message were brought to me by an angel from heaven, then such a person deceives himself. For whoever does not accept the word on its own account is never inclined to accept it on account of any preacher, even if all the angels were preaching it to him.”

For Luther, faith, like that of the shepherds, was very important, the faith of Mary was very important. They are examples of people who heard the word and accepted it. They are people who let the imaginative side of their brain overcome any desire to overanalyze and try to figure things out. They heard the word, the good news of a Savior, and let the wonder of it reveal the truth to them.

Tonight we join the shepherds in faith, we join Mary as she treasures these words and ponders them in her heart. We join them as we celebrate the good news of a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

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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