Worship the Mystery of Christmas

imageWhen they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented and presented him with gifts of gold and incense and of myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11

For God to condescend to assume human form and to walk among a people clumsy violence known for killing their prophets is the mystery of the first Advent. He does not appear as a fully grown man of mysterious provenance, but rather, as a baby with a human mother who herself possessed the sin nature derived of her descent from Eve and Adam. The baby Jesus endures the growth process, emptied of His divine powers and prerogatives and walks sinless on the inexorable journey to Calvary.

How is it that the baby attracts the worship that He deserves? He possesses nothing outward that belies His perfection and divinity. No halo, no translucent glow surrounding him, he does not spring from the womb preaching the good news. He is a hungry, cranky, sleepy and weepy infant, despite the beatific scene painted by the hymnists. Yet worshipped He is.

He is worshipped because of the divine revelation of heavenly hosts singing Gloria in excelcis deo. He is worshipped because the archangel Gabriel left the presence of God and appeared to various people telling them that the long-awaited King had come. He is worshipped because the string of witnesses stretching from Mary to Elizabeth to John to the shepherds quietly watching over their flocks at night. He is worshipped because it is indisputable as to who He is.

With the distance of time comes a casual familiarity. We can see how the story ends and see the baby as the grown Savior. Returning to the first days of His life we return to a faith that requires trust in an unknown future. It is faith in history that is not written yet, but rooted in the signs we have seen. We may know the ultimate conclusion to the story as God has revealed it to us, we can restore the mystery about tomorrow. We can step out in faith to attempt great things according to our calling, knowing that all preceding promises have been fulfilled.

Be blessed this Christmas and in all of your days to follow…

Hope–Second Sunday of Advent 2010

imageMay the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)

One of the great reminders that our observance of Advent brings, is that we have not been left alone to patiently endure until the Lord returns for us. As Paul wrote in the verse that precedes the passage above, every word of the Scriptures was written that we may be encouraged and have hope. Perusing those scriptures we find that we not only have hope from these words, we are surrounded with like hope in our family, community and church. We are both recipients and providers of this hope, from and to other Christians. Together, we look to the flame that edges closer to His coming with each week and together, we await his second arrival.

Paul uses the scriptures to remind the reader of a promise from years past that applied to them in that day, and which remains applicable to us in our hour:

“The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in Him.” (15:12).

Jesus, the ‘Son of David’ is that root. He is the source and center of our hope. His life provides the model for our endurance and servanthood to others. Others within the church know the source of our hope. Our calling is to take that hope outside of the church and into the world, living lives that exude such joy and assurance that it sparks the spirit in others to seek out the fount of promise.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (v13)

Grace, peace and hope to you.

image Per Ola Wilberg

Fear of the Church Calendar

imageWhile many liturgical churches retain the celebration of the various seasons of the historical church calendar, it seems to have lost favor among much of the modern Church. Christmas and Easter are certainly recognized but the preceding weeks of Advent and Lent have fallen from the consciousness of churchgoers and worship leaders. When was the last time your church celebrated Pentecost? The loss of the calendar for our worship serves to ultimately weaken our worship and worse, it allows the events of the world to dictate our schedules.

The idea behind the calendar of church life comes from God in creation. In six days he marked each new aspect of creation and then rested on the seventh showing us the pattern for different times of life having their own purposes. In the Old Testament the Jewish year revolved around three feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles).

“Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.- Exodus 23:14

Christians soon added Easter and the Christmas celebration to the calendar along with the seasons of piety (Lent and Advent) that preceded them. More milestones were added during the passing of year creating what are known as ‘seasons’ within the liturgy. These seasons served a specific purpose that is needed more than ever in our modern worship and that was/is to remind Christians over and over of the major events of God’s story. Be recognizing the period of the calendar in which we live and share life together we gain a greater sense of our place alongside all of the saints who have preceded us in history and those things we all share in common.

Birth of the Savior ~ Christmas

Rebirth and Second Coming of the Savior ~ Advent

Death of the Savior ~ Lent & Holy Week

Resurrection of the Savior ~ Easter

Coming of the Holy Spirit ~ Pentecost

Christians that recognize their own calendar separate themselves from the time keeping of the world. The calendar reminds us that God remains in charge of time and that everything occurs according to His schedule. When we recognize the seasons of worship that we pass through we begin to see and recognize the false idols of the world that attempt to infiltrate our lives for their own selfish purpose. No longer will we be susceptible to the Christmas decorations that begin to appear at the mall before All Saints Day in an attempt to purge our wallets of treasure. We will trust in God to bring the season as He deems appropriate.

Since the Reformation, there have been repeated movements to rid the Protestant church of anything that appears to Roman in its structure and the liturgy and calendar have been victims of these purges. Worship leaders and pastors especially should consider carefully what has risen to replace them in leading of God’s people. We have no reason to fear the calendar and every reason to restore it to its proper place within God’s Church. Pray on it…

[Originally published at Worship Craft]

Advent: Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Many folks use happiness and joy synonymously, especially this time of year, but there is a world of difference between the two. Happiness is more often than not circumstantial, that is, it is dependent upon your current situation. There are times when we are happy and times when we are obviously unhappy. Happiness is dependent on things that can be out of our control and so, as I drive this morning, I may be happy when all the lights are green or a bit unhappy when all the folks on their way to the airport slow the flow of traffic down. Happiness is fleeting.

Joy, on the other hand, is an internal condition that is wholly within you. It is not connected to the ups and downs of daily life nor is it dependent on circumstances out of your control. As we say earlier this week, Jesus points to something that lives within us as the source and meaning of our joy…

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11)

The true joy of the Advent season is knowing the King. Our joy as followers of Christ is rooted in relationship with Jesus and the security that this communion brings. Unlike happiness, this joy is not affected by our external circumstance. We, like Paul, learn to be content in all circumstances knowing that our greatest reward still lies ahead.

Maranatha!

Advent Joy – A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort

At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships

So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger

At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,

So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears

To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,

So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and

To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness

To believe that you can make a difference in the world,

So that you can do what others claim cannot be done

To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Amen

(Thank you Mr. Yancey)

Shattered Advent Peace To Be Restored

Here in the Denver area we are inundated wall to wall with news of the horrific shootings that took the lives of missionaries and church goers on a snowy Advent weekend. Why a young man, a former YWAM trainee would be gripped by such evil and carry this out has not been determined and may not ever be. As the radio and print pontificators point out all of the cultural effects that bore on the shooter, some voices have brought out the question that is on the minds of many, where was God in all this?

How do we explain God’s economy in which good and bad comes upon the regenerate and unregenerate alike? Can the Church continue in our anticipation of the Birth in a way that demonstrates the trust we have in a God whose long term vision for the world is beyond our understanding? Can we demonstrate to those who have yet to meet the savior that our trust is secure, regardless of actions such as this?

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3)

He has lifted us out of the muck and the mire and given us a solid foundation in which we live our new lives. It is firm and fixed and cannot be moved or shaken by worldly forces and we can trust in it. Though it might tremor from time to time as evil passes by, sometimes near, sometimes far, the Rock upon which we stand will hold us until that moment we are called home. The new song that God has placed in our mouths and in our hearts must be sung at the top of our lungs in times such as this. Our praise will catch the attention of those near and far and they too will put their trust in the Lord.

Pray for our fallen brothers and sisters and their families, YWAM, and New Life Church.

Philip Crouse                      

Philip Crouse was shot and kllled early today at the Youth With A Mission campus in Arvada, police said.

Rachael (left) & Stephanie (far right) Works

The Works family, clockwise from back left, Rachael, 16; Laurie, 18; Marie; Stephanie, 18; David and Grace. Rachael and Stephanie died in the shootings.

Tiffany Johnson

Tiffany Johnson, 26, identified as one of two people shot and killed at the Youth With a Mission in Arvada, is pictured on her MySpace page.

Maranatha! Come O Lord and bring us your peace!

Stackhouse on Advent: Repentance and Forgiveness

Stackhouse speaks to repentance and forgiveness as themes for reflection during Advent (Entering Advent: Repentance and Forgiveness (I)  ), ideas that are often the focus of our Lenten meditations. The gift of both practices is seen in the release from bondage that ensues. We who practice biblical forgiveness is freed from the bitterness and unloving attitude toward our neighbors that is part and parcel of begrudging one who has injured us. Similarly, repentance breaks the shackles that bind us to the past behaviors and errors. Great gifts indeed.