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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany 01/06/2020

Today, this Second Sunday of Christmas is also the 12th and final day of Christmas. Twelve days in then, with “the holidays” pretty much in the rear view mirror for most people, for those still paying attention the readings for today seem designed to invite speculation concerning what it all means. There is still one more chapter of what we think of as the Christmas story with Epiphany and the Wise Men tomorrow night, but today’s lessons approach things differently, presenting as they do, a more cosmic dimension to Jesus’ birth.

The gospel lesson from chapter one of John repeats the gospel for Christmas day but even for those of us who have worship on Christmas day, the attendance is light so maybe this is the lectionary’s way of allowing more people to hear the poetic and cosmic beauty of these verses. Coupled with that is part of the first chapter of Ephesians most likely because of language about adoption and inheritance, similar to what John says in the gospel as he writes about power to become children of God. In addition to that, both texts mention grace; in John we receive grace upon grace, in Ephesians it’s glorious grace freely bestowed. For we Lutherans though, mentions of grace are always worthy of our attention.

Grace and adoption as children of God are both important in getting at the meaning of Christmas as they begin to get at the new relationship into which we are invited, a new relationship that’s at the heart of the Incarnation. With all the trappings of Christmas pretty much behind us now it’s a reminder that the Incarnation is, first and foremost about God’s commitment to broken humanity, God’s desire for a relationship with each of us despite the fact that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. In and through Jesus, a way out of that captivity is revealed.

Ephesians though leads not with grace or adoption but with another word, which is blessing. It’s used three times in the first verse of today’s reading: “Blessed be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Blessing is one of those words we use a lot without thinking too much about it; it’s a word though that can be used in a few different ways. I think we tend to think of God blessing us, but in this verse from Ephesians it starts with God being blessed. Used that way it’s mostly an expression of thanks and praise to God for being a blessing to us, thanks and praise of course being an important part of what we do in prayer and in worship.

From there it does move to God blessing us, such blessing in general having to do with God acting on our behalf and looking favorably on us, making us worthy and giving us power to be who God would have us be. With that of course we should be reminded that as God has blessed us, in the same way, we are to be a blessing to others, a theme that runs through the whole Bible.

In Ephesians though, this talk of blessing sets up the words about God’s abundant grace that is really at the heart of these verses and is also at the heart of the verses from John and, especially as Lutherans, we understand grace to be at the heart of the relationship into which the Incarnation invites us. Apart from grace, we have no claim to be in such a relationship. It seems appropriate that grace be an emphasis in the first sermon of a new calendar year.

I don’t know how many of you read the Living Lutheran magazine, there are always some available in the narthex, but in every issue there’s an article titled, “I’m a Lutheran” in which someone describes who they are and how their faith affects what they do. In most of them, maybe all of them, there’s a paragraph that starts with “I’m a Lutheran because…” and inevitably the “because” has to do with grace.

Just looking at the two most recent issues, in December it was, “I’m a Lutheran because we believe that grace is a gift from our loving God. I need to hear every day that God’s love and approval don’t need to be earned because they have been freely given. And because of this great gift, we can, in turn love and serve others.” That’s good. In January it’s, “I’m a Lutheran because we prioritize grace over greed, service over self-righteousness and community over congregation.”

Some pastors might now ask you to turn to your neighbor so each of you could finish the sentence, “I’m a Lutheran because…” but you’re lucky that I’m not that kind of pastor. However, for any of us it’s a good question to think about and…on thinking about it, I would hope that faith and hope in God’s grace would factor into your answer. Note too that in both of the responses I quoted, service was also part of their “because” so grace isn’t understood as a free pass but as an entrance into a relationship with God that empowers us to serve others. Confident that we are forgiven and accepted by God, we are free to serve. As Martin Luther said, “God doesn’t need your good works but your neighbor does.”

The 12th Day of Christmas then isn’t just about 12 drummers drumming and a partridge in a pear tree. In John’s gospel and in Ephesians there is that cosmic dimension to the Incarnation with John placing Jesus “In the beginning,” outside of time and space. Ephesians extends that dimension to us, in effect making those who are “in Christ” part of an eternal reality, having been chosen in the heavenly places, before the foundation of the world. In both texts there is reference to the mystery of it all, in Ephesians, “He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,” and in John, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

There is a cosmic dimension to all this but even with that, what it points to is the blessing of the relationship made possible by God’s grace. What’s interesting too, at least to me, is that in Ephesians, in the original Greek, today’s verses were one, long run on sentence. Editors have broken it into several shorter sentences making it easier to read, but as one long sentence it’s like once started, Paul or whoever wrote this, couldn’t stop the stream of consciousness in expounding on the extravagance of what has been done for us in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus thus making our adoption as children of God possible.

At the end of my Christmas Day sermon I said that amid John’s lofty and poetic theology, on Christmas morning, the words about being children of God are the words we most need to hear. On the 12th Day of Christmas, the Second Sunday of Christmas, I could say pretty much the same thing about John and also about Ephesians. Their words are a lot to absorb on a day when a lot of us are thinking about getting back into our regular routine after the somewhat different pace of “the holidays.” In the end though, it’s still about the riches of his grace that has been lavished on us. It is about our adoption as God’s children through Jesus Christ. It is about being children of God.

I’m a Lutheran because I have faith that this is most certainly true.

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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