Thursday, December 24, 2020

Nativity witnesses


Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-20

This past week I was struck by two comments which have been playing together in my mind. The first was a question in an article. “Was there a midwife at the Nativity?”

We usually imagine the birth of Jesus happening in a cold barn or cave, with Joseph delivering the baby. They were alone until the shepherds showed up. But scholarship and other traditions declare that this traditional image is likely to be wrong.

Until the Renaissance, there was often a midwife and her assistant – called a doula -- in pictures of the birth of Jesus. The midwife often held the baby and the doula did the cleanup of both Mary and the bedding. 

Recently, there has been a fair amount of discussion of the meaning of the Greek word translated into English as “inn”. Later in Luke, the word katalumati refers to the upper room (or guest room) where Jesus and the disciples shared his last supper. Hospitality is an integral part of the ancient Israeli culture. So, Joseph’s family definitely would have made room for them somewhere, even if the guest room was not available.

 Of course there was a midwife at the birth. When the mamas and aunties saw Mary, they would have immediately sent for the local midwife. Mary herself would have little experience of the birth process, although she probably was with Elizabeth when John the Baptist was born. 

In addition, it is unlikely that Joseph was with Mary until after everything was cleaned up. As a good Jew he would not have wanted to come into contact with Mary while she was ritually unclean. 

Now, we can forgive Luke for omitting this detail, since as a man, he would have not known the details, and he would not have considered the presence of other women important to the story. But women know, and we are delighted to think of the midwife and doula as the first witnesses to the birth of Jesus.


Did they know this was no ordinary birth? Perhaps not at the moment. But the instant they heard from the shepherds that they had seen the savior, a baby, they would have put the pieces together and known that they helped birth this special child. Or … some early artwork shows the midwives adoring the baby who glows with holy light.


Here is where the second comment I have been pondering comes in. It’s a couple paragraphs from Martin Luther’s Christmas Sermon from 1543.


And as they approached Bethlehem, Joseph was saying, “Oh, it will be all right.  Soon we’ll be among relatives and we can borrow everything.” A fine idea that was!


Her time came as they were drawing near, and Joseph sought room for them in the inn. But there was no room in the inn. Of course there was! There was all the room in the inn, but nobody would give up a room! Shame on you, wretched Bethlehem; you should’ve been burned with brimstone!


And don’t you people in this congregation think you’d have done any better if you were there. I can just hear you say, “Oh, we would have loved to take care of the Baby Jesus. We would have washed his diapers.” No you wouldn’t!  If you’d been there you wouldn’t have done a bit better, and if you think you would, why don’t you do it for your neighbor in your midst, who is Christ among you?”


We all like to think we would have listened to the angels and gone to worship this baby as God’s Son and our Savior. We are sure we would have believed to the shepherds. We know we would have believed the whispers of the midwives.


But in truth, most of us would have been skeptical. We would have laughed and said, “Yeah, sure. God’s gonna come to us as the child of a poor couple from Galilee.” So, yes, some of us would have believed, but many of us would not have. That’s ok. It’s human nature and God knows us well.


… You and I have not literally witnessed the birth, the angels, or the shepherds. We did not walk the Holy Lands with Jesus. We were not there at the cross or at the resurrection. But we have witnessed God’s activity in our lives and the lives of those we know. We are the witnesses Jesus has in the world today.


As witnesses to the goodness of God, we are God’s hands and feet and mouths. It is through us that the babies born into needy families are cared for with food and diapers and clothing.  It is through us and people like us that the hungry are fed, the homeless find shelter, and those who are labeled as “different” are made welcome. We are the witnesses who are called to tell the stories now. If no one told the stories of Jesus to us, we would not know about him today.

Luke tells us that the Shepherds left the little family and went out to tell the world the good news of the birth of the savior, the messiah. This is why I like to end Christmas Eve worship with the lights bright and a reminder that it’s up to us to be like the shepherds and go tell the good news to all who will listen, that Jesus Christ is born. Amen









Midweek Advent Worship, Week 4



Magnificat: My Soul Magnifies the Lord

Week 4 December 23, 2020



In this Advent time of waiting and watching,

the words of the angel Gabriel break into our world:

“Greetings! The Lord is with you.

Do not fear, for nothing will be impossible with God.”

We respond with Mary to the angel’s message:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;

let it be with me according to your word.”

We join with Elizabeth to greet the mother of our Lord:

“Blessed are you among women,

and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

We echo Mary’s song of praise:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

In this Advent time of waiting and watching, let us pray:

Gracious God, you come to us in new and surprising ways.

You make the impossible possible.

Help us, like Mary, to answer your call,

that the light of Christ may spread to all the world.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


HYMN : Light one candle to watch for Messiah ELW 240

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 READING: Jeremiah 33:14-16

A reading from Jeremiah

 14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”


Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.

 PSALM: Psalm 85 and song, My soul magnifies the Lord

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 READING: Luke 1:46-55

A reading from Luke.

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”


The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.


The topic for today is the promises of God and how those promises are fulfilled. The Magnificat itself is filled with those promises already fulfilled: God has shown strength, scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, filled the hungry, and so forth.

God makes promises throughout the Old Testament, and then Jesus makes promises in the Gospels. I notice that the promises are made to an individual, like Abraham and Sarah, like David, and here to Mary.

But the promises are not intended for just one person; they are given to one person but intended for the whole people, for all Israel, for all believers. The promises are made so we can have hope that God is paying attention to us and wants us to believe that good things are to come.

Of course, we also notice that it often takes years or decades or sometimes centuries for divine promises to be fulfilled. The promises of God are for the long term, not necessarily the immediate future.

Since we may never see the fulfillment of God’s promises, why should we trust in them? We have learned that God is reliable because God’s promises have been fulfilled in the past.

We have also learned that the promises Jesus made are intended to be fulfilled through Spirit, and through our human hands and feet.

It is with our assistance – our donations of food and towels and soap – that hungry people are fed and given dignity.

It is with our voices, our advocacy, that unfair laws and practices are changed.

It is even through the power of a single vote that the powerful are thrown down from their seats of power.

It is through the wisdom and creativity of scientists, guided by Spirit, that we will one day be free of this virus, and those that will come in the future will be conquered as well.

Let’s stay hopeful that God’s promises to be with us always, to protect us, to give us good things, will come to those who believe. Amen



The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!



A list of prayer concerns is gathered.

Each portion of the prayers ends with these or similar words.

  O God for whom we long, show us your mercy.


Gathered into one by the Holy Spirit, let us pray as Jesus taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.


SENDING SONG: Blessed be the God of Israel ELW 250

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Let us bless the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

The God through whom all things are possible grant you grace, mercy, and peace. Amen.


Next time: January 6, Epiphany

 Copyright © 2020 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.

Scripture from NRSV © 1989


Sunday, December 20, 2020

What would you do?


1 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 1:26-38


These stories today are mostly very familiar. Nathan tells King David that God doesn’t need a fancy temple. More important is establishing his reign in a united Israel. Then, Nathan promises David that his line will be established as a house and continue forever. This is the link to Jesus, who descends from David.


In the Gospel, we have the story of the Annunciation, when Angel Gabriel tells Mary she will become pregnant and give birth to the savior of the world. Today’s Psalm is from Luke, and it’s Mary’s response to seeing her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant by God’s special intervention. We call the poem / song the Magnificat because in the Latin and in some English translations it begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”


Today, the sermon will take a different form. I have some questions for you, and some more questions about how you might respond to each set of questions. I hope they will lead you into pondering what God has done, continues to do, and will do in the future – your future and the future of St Matthew’s Lutheran Church.

First question: What would you do if an angel suddenly appeared before you?


·         Would you be terrified or delighted?

·         Would you welcome the angel?   

·         Would you listen to him or her and believe what they told you? Would you do as God asked?

·         Or would you think you had been dreaming and go on with your life as if the angel encounter never happened?


Next question: How would you respond if you were told you were highly favored by God?




·         Would you puff up your chest and say, “Yes, I am! But I already know that.”

·         Or would you say, “Who, me? How does God even know I exist? I am a sinful nobody.”

·         Or would you say, “God favors me? Really? Wow! I need to think about that a while.”

And the question that gets to the heart of the matter for today: What would you do if an angel asked you to make major changes to your life? What if these changes would threaten your reputation, making even your immediate family question your loyalty? What if these changes caused you to believe the impossible?

 Here is what Angel Gabriel asked Mary to do: Allow God to make her pregnant, even though she wasn’t married. In those days, such women could be stoned, or at least cast out of the community. She was asked to help Joseph believe what Gabriel told her. She was asked to name the child Joshua – which means God saves. She was asked to raise this child to know he was a descendant of King David and worthy to be king of Israel.

 So, if you were Mary – even at the age you are now, what would you say to Gabriel? And, if you were Joseph, even at the age you are now, what would you say?

A colleague posted a similar question in a Facebook group and here are some of the responses. Here is the question reframed for us all today:


Just imagine. Angel Gabriel shows up in your kitchen, your bathroom, your office, your class, and disrupts everything. "I know you had a meeting planned, beloved...or a lunch date scheduled, or were about to handle that load of laundry, but God needs you. The time commitment will be 9 months and you won’t be able to keep this to yourself. Everyone is going to know. And when it’s all over, it won’t be over. You will have to feed and nurture and raise this new life, new dream, new way of being... What would you say? What would people in your family or congregation say?

Here are some of the responses:

·         Wait. What?

·         Give me a moment to process this. I’m not good at switching my focus – but I’m pretty sure I’ll come around soon. … And, um, could you tell my spouse?

·         Long silence. Me? You want ME to do this? Yes, yes, yes! Of course, I will, I would be so very honored, but isn’t there someone more worthy?

·         I don’t think this is going to fit into my schedule …

·         So, here’s the thing … this thing you are asking me to do is not immoral, but people are going to think that I am immoral.

·         Is there a Plan B and will I be in trouble if I say no?

·         Can I just write you a check instead?

·         Can you come back after the holidays and give me some more details so I can make an informed decision?  

One further question: How would you respond if you knew God’s goal was to change the world, to change the status quo? Mary said “yes,” and taught her child about God’s justice. I wonder if Mary sang the poem we know as the Magnificat to Jesus as he was growing up. I wonder what the local rabbi taught the people of Nazareth. I wonder what Joseph taught him about the way to treat customers and coworkers.

I wonder if Mary and Joseph taught Jesus to be generous, if they taught him the difference between the classes, and how one group of people mistreats another. And at the same time, did they teach him that the very wealthy and the very poor are all are beloved by God?

Lots to wonder about if we put ourselves in Mary’s sandals. No matter what we decide to do, Mary said “yes.” And she said yes knowing and believing that God can do anything that suits God’s purposes. She said yes because if God believed in her, she could do whatever God asked her to.


And one last thought. Today’s angels may not look like they did in Jesus’ time. You may not know when you have been speaking with an angel, but you may find your life is changed by the encounter.

Beloved, we all are God’s highly favored ones. We can do whatever God asks us to do, because with God, nothing is impossible. Amen