GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Little Bethlehems of Ephrathahs All of Us - 12/22/2018

We're almost there.

The event we've been looking toward in these last four weeks is just over the horizon -- we can almost see and hear it. If we squint a little we can begin to see the light of that star shining over Bethlehem; if we’re really quiet, maybe we can begin to hear angels sing.

The anticipation is building. The light of our Advent Wreath shines noticeably brighter as we get closer to marking the time when the Christ child arrived. In our homes, many of us have cleaned, decorated and prepared to celebrate the season with family and friends. Christmas music full of lyrics of hope and messages of friendship and love travel through the air almost everywhere we go.

An Advent devotion I read a few years ago said it well … “Christmas is the guest everyone is eagerly watching for. We’re looking out the window, checking our watches, squealing with glee, and clamoring to the door as it finally pulls into the driveway. It’s here! It’s here!” (Siri Liv Myhrom, The Shoulder Season of Advent, http://www.onbeing.org/blog/the-shoulder-season-of-advent/8190)

We expect that bigness in God's activity too – and more. God’s activity in the world is enormous and life-changing for all of God's people, for all of creation. God chose to come among us in the beautiful and fragile form of a human being, and then died on a cross for us and freed us to eternal life in and with God. In that deep and abiding mercy, we were shown the way to forgiveness through the bread and the wine and the waters of baptism. It was so for the generations that came before us. It is so for us today as we come to the table together, and it will be so for the generations to come. It's a big deal.

It’s here! It’s here!

 However, our texts pull us away from all the bigness of this news and point us to the origins of this work of the Holy Spirit – the places and people and experiences God works through to bring about this big deal. And they are small and unexpected places.

Our prophet Micah today comes from a time when the kingdom of Judah – which had tried under King (Heza-kyah) Hezekiah to fortify and protect its cities and its people – that kingdom was just being annihilated by (Senah-kahrib) Sennacherib, the mighty Assyrian military leader. Despite their efforts to protect themselves, city after city throughout the kingdom was being run over by the Assyrians. And this little town of Bethlehem knew it was likely next and there was little that could be done about it. And yet, out of that destruction and chaos comes this voice of hope and a glimpse into a future that, for us Christ followers, points courageously and hopefully toward the Messiah. “And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” (5:4-5a)

Out of a vulnerable and unexpected place – Bethlehem of Ephrathah – the prophecy of our Savior arises. Bethlehem means house of bread, and Ephrathah means fruitful. That is what is presented to us today – this fruitful house of bread.

We can detect the way God’s big change comes through our humble and unexpected places too.

A few years ago I was talking with Sunday School kids about the nativity scene. I asked them, if God could do anything God wanted, why was Jesus born in a barn and in such poor and dangerous circumstances? One of our budding theologians at Eden on the Bay offered up a powerful response … “To show us the beauty in it?” he said. I still hang on to that unexpected theology.

Or consider the small group of Edenites and friends who went out on a very rainy and foggy night to knock on doors or ring doorbells, runaway and then sing Christmas carols to people from the sidewalk.

It was not a pleasant night for a walk, to say the least. And as much as I teetered on the edge of canceling it, something pushed me to do it. I would just show up at the appointed time and if others showed, we’d go forth. If they were super whiny or concerned about the outing -- which admittedly felt more like Christmas in Portland then Christmas in Munising – I was prepared to bring them back to my house where there was a fire in the fireplace, cocoa keeping warm on the stove and lots of Christmas goodies.

To my delight, six people showed up! So we went forth to sing songs of hope and joy into that rainy, foggy, cold Thursday night. It seemed kind of silly when we first started. But then we started seeing people’s reactions and how the little carols and cheer we brought were bringing about smiles and laughter. Some people even got teary eyed and touched their hearts. It meant a lot to the people who heard us, it was an unexpectedly big deal – as goofy as our little band of troubadours might have felt.

I personally had another experience late this fall – an experience of feeling God’s mightiness in an unexpected gesture. It took place at Christine Johnson’s funeral, which came toward the end of a large number of funerals, at both Prince of Peace and Eden. I came into Chris’ funeral feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the loss I was witnessing among families and friends experiencing that tender and life-shifting side of our love for one another.

As we stood together in the POP memorial garden and committed Chris’ ashes to the ground and her soul to our God Almighty, her husband Jim took a cross necklace he had made from around his neck and gave it to me. It was a quiet gesture in a vulnerable moment and it meant the universe to me. I felt the enormity of God’s presence in our lives and on those days when I need to remember that or find that I am awestruck by that presence, I gravitate to that cross necklace.

God works great and beautiful things through the most unassuming and unexpected places. And it teaches us that when it comes to God we should expect …

… a powerful witness to the Gospel in the voice of a Sunday School student. We should expect …

… to be reminded of the ways God is still at work mightily in all the little places of the world. We should expect …

… that God is magnified in the lives and souls of the faithful like us gathered here and so many others outside these walls. We should expect...

… to feel and be changed by the Holy Spirit at work when we again tell and hear our story of Christmas these darkest days of winter.

***

Now I’d like to sing you a song. It's called the Cherry Tree Carol. This is an old song – dating back to the 15th century, but it continues to have life breathed into it. Peter Paul and Mary did a well-known recording of it a few decades ago. Larry and I know well it from a 2009 recording by Sting.

It's a lovely little carol that I think matches the emphases of our texts today. It's a simple song of two faithful people who trust God, but also experience moments of limitation, doubt and confusion and even anger. They are very much like us. They are unexpected.

It is my prayer that as you listen to the words of this carol, you will be reminded of the ways God is always at work in you and around you. …  all of us little Bethlehems of Ephrathah through whom God's enormous acts of mercy continue to enter into this world and favor the lowly, feed the hungry, and call the overly proud and power hungry back to the way of the Lord.

Cherry Tree Carol

D                                                                     A

When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he

G                                 D         (A)                   (D)

He courted Virgin Mary, the queen of Galilee (x2)

 

D                                                                     A

When Joseph and Mary were walking one day

G                                 D         (A)                   (D)

Here is apples and cherries so fair to behold (x2)

 

D                                                                     A

Then Mary spoke to Joseph so meek and so mild

G                                 D         (A)                   (D)

"Joseph, gather me some cherries for I am with child" (x2)

 

D                                                                     A

Then Joseph flew in anger, in anger he flew

G                                 D         (A)                   (D)

"Oh, let the father of the baby gather cherries for you" (x2)

 

D                                                                     A

So the cherry-tree bowed low down, low down to the ground

G                                 D         (A)                   (D)

And Mary gathered cherries while Joseph stood down (x2)

 

D                                                                     A

Then Joseph took Mary all on his right knee

G                                 D         (A)                   (D)

Crying, "Lord, have mercy for what I have done" (x2)

 

D                                                                     A

When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he

G                                 D         (A)                   (D)

He courted Virgin Mary, the queen of Galilee (x2)

 

Pastor Ann Gonyea

Home | Prayer Requests | Calendar | Education | Facebook | Guest Book | Sermons

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

Website designed and maintained by Superior Book Productions