Posted tagged ‘Advent’

The Why’s of Christmas

December 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 16, 2018

                              

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it changed things!

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 it REALLY changed things! That’s not meant to say Dickens was more important than Jesus, but rather to make a point about what we have done to Christmas.

Before the British author wrote the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Christmas was not viewed as a major holiday. In fact, in the early part of the 1800’s very few American Protestants celebrated Christmas because it was seen as being “too Catholic!” 

Dickens’ tale of greed turned to generosity brought a different spirit and perspective to the season. It helped that he was already a recognized author with novels like Oliver Twist, and The Old Curiosity Shop. 

Christmas now dominates our calendars. I asked the children during a recent Sunday morning worship what they knew about the Season of Advent. One boy’s response was “Isn’t that when we do a calendar where a piece of chocolate pops out for each day?”

Yes…and it’s also the season that has become populated with other yearly sweets…like fruitcake, fudge, and candy canes. It’s the time of the year when our mailbox gets product advertisements for almond toffee candy, over-priced pears and apples, and popcorn in a tin! 

I know…I know, I’m sounding like a “Bah! Humbug” withered old man who doesn’t wasn’t to part with his nickels and dimes. Actually, I love Christmas! I love it even more now that I’m not a full-time pastor. I can now actually enjoy the season and meditate on its message, as opposed to planning extra services, and taking care of all the church-related extra details.

Sometimes, in all our busyness about the business we forgot to think about the why’s of what we’re doing. Celebrating the Christ-child becomes a short-term sermon series…and then we move on. Christmas is seen as an emphasis, complete with decorated sanctuaries, children’s programs, and star-shaped cookies (There’s that sweet thing again!). 

But the coming of Immanuel was a foretold event that was meant to change things forever. It signaled God’s love for his created, and reconciliation then and now. That has been, and should always be, the why of the event.

Charles Dickens raised the popularity of Christmas by writing a story about a man who was visited by three ghosts, who MADE him see his past, his present, and what was yet to be. In essence, it had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus but rather of personal revelation of how one man’s deeds and misdeeds affected others. 

It’s a great story, but not THE story. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. God has been and still is writing the story of grace, forgiveness, and new life.

Playing Through The Wrong Keys To Find A Note Of Harmony

December 18, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 December 18, 2017

                  

Yesterday I drove out to the hamlet of Simla, Colorado for the children’s Christmas program at the Methodist Church, followed by speaking at First Baptist of Simla. I had been invited to attend the children’s program and told the invitee that I would try to make it. It was delightful as only a small town small church can be.

For the offertory two young girls, both around ten years of age, played a piano duet. Both were dressed in beautiful shiny attire, beaming with excitement and a bit of nervousness. They positioned the sheet music in front of them and then carefully took their seats on the bench. They each took a calming breath, placed their fingers on the keys, and one of the girls whispered “One, two, three, play.”

The first notes were uncertain and wavering. Five notes in to the song they glanced quickly at one another, offering mutual encouragement for the adventure.

And then there were the uneven notes, one earlier and one later in its sound…another wrong note beginning to be played but as quickly as it started the playing finger slipping to the right note next to it. The small congregation of twenty of so “hoped” them on, longing for the next played sounds to be the right notes.  It was two girls risking failure but hoping for discovery.

And then in the midst of the effort and searches suddenly a few notes of perfect harmony sounded! One of the girls looked at the other with an expression of surprised delight, as if she was saying “Did we just do that?”

A few moments later they synchronized the playing of their last keys and breathed a sigh of relief. The gathered faithful clapped in appreciation of the experience. Even though their offering of talents was a bit short of perfect it was sweet music to the souls of the saints. The young ladies looked out at the church and displayed smiles of satisfaction and finished business.

It reminded me of the church, sometimes struggling to find the harmony as the struggles of ministry surface. Wrong decisions made with the right intentions, right choices made with the wrong intentions…like two young girls seeking to work together to play beautiful music and often missing the notes.

And then, all of a sudden, moments of harmony surface in a ministry that is mostly uncoordinated. The moments bring smiles to the faces of the weary, peace to the spirit of the Body. Just when it seemed that a bond with Christ would never be discovered again it suddenly appeared.

Ministry is more often like a pair of ten year olds playing a piano duet than the rhythm  of a symphony. If it was always such sweet music it may not be appreciated nearly as much. Paul made note of it when he wrote in Romans 12 these words: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those to mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with those of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:15-16)

There was no conceit sitting on the piano bench yesterday, just two young girls freed by the church to risk imperfect talents in the ministering to the saints. It was my closest connection with the Holy the whole day!

The Changing of Advent (Holiday) Traditions

December 13, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 13, 2017

                            

Last Christmas Eve was a strange time for me. It was the first time in 38 years that I was not involved in the leadership of a Christmas Eve worship service. Having retired from pastoral ministry at the end of 2015 I had to shift from leading to being one of the ones being led.

It’s okay! I survived, and enjoyed the worship gathering at First Baptist Church in Colorado Springs that evening. It just felt weird, like the first time you wear silk pajamas!

Advent and Christmas are punctuated with traditions. Last Sunday we sang Christmas carols in worship. Christmas music is about as traditional as you can get, although the Starbucks I’m sitting in right now is playing their “holiday tracks.” Bah humbug!

In the secularizing of our culture the traditions’ scale has been shifting in recent years. Although Christmas Eve is the most heavily attended worship service of the year, when people think of traditions between Thanksgiving and Christmas they are likely to put 5 A.M. Black Friday shopping trips, office holiday parties, watching The Christmas Story movie or It’s A Wonderful Life, fruitcake, and ugly sweater contests as their traditions this time of the year.

Advent calendars used to be a tradition in many families, counting down the days until Christmas. Advent is a season of waiting and expectation but we are no longer a culture that waits very well!

Wrapped gifts used to be symbolic of the gifts being brought to the Christ-child. Now gift cards in an envelope will be the biggest sellers this season. We’re unsure of what to give someone so we get extra fuel points at the grocery store by simply buying a Best Buy gift card and letting the receiver figure out what they want. Our giving has taken on an element of what we get out of it!

The number of people sending Christmas cards, another tradition, is dropping as Facebook has made things easier and cheaper…and who wants to wait in line at the post office anyway?

The tradition of Christmas Eve services has changed also. It used to be that going to one’s church on Christmas Eve was a time of worship and reuniting. Kids who had grown up in the church were back in town. Old friends were back. It was a gathering of community that had become tradition. In recent years families look for a service that fits their time schedule. Mega-churches with five or six service times become the place to go so that people can get on with what else needs to be done.

Things change, that’s how it is! I just wish more people would first think of “O, Come All Ye Faithful!” when they consider a Christmas song rather than “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”

The Christmas Sunday Quandary

December 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 10, 2016

                              

It seems to be a topic of leadership team conversations at a number of churches across the country. What happens if Christmas Day lands on a Sunday? Does a church still have its Sunday morning worship service…or not?

In a 2005 survey about ten percent of churches said they would not have worship on Christmas Day. My guess is that you could probably triple that percent for 2016. Most of those who are having services readily admit that attenders will have more pew room to spread out in, as numbers will be substantially down. Many churches who are having services are scaling down for it… shortening the time frame, eliminating children’s groups and/or childcare, minimizing the number of people responsible for various elements of the service.

Almost every church that is more liturgical in style is continuing as usual. The make-up of most of the churches that are not meeting on Christmas Day are composed of congregations comprised with a high number of young adults; or churches that would be characterized as non-denominational evangelical.

In an increasing number of congregations the heavy emphasis on Christmas Eve services is the main reason for not meeting on Christmas Day. Mega-churches close to where we live are having five services during that day, with the first one beginning at 11 A.M and the last one at 7 P.M. It’s a marathon event for the church staff, thus no services on Sunday.

On Sunday many of their attenders will frequent a different establishment. Starbucks! It’s open on Christmas Day! Or they will be in front of the TV watching NFL games. They’re still playing!

Such a worship quandary doesn’t appear on the church council very often. The last time it happened was 2011. The next time after this year will be 2022, and then 2033! Besides the heavy Christmas Eve emphasis the main reason for canceling Sunday services is the word “family.” Family seems to trump Jesus! I’m not saying “humbug” to an emphasis on family, but it seems almost like going to the hospital before the birth of a new baby, waiting with expectancy, and then leaving before the new arrival comes! After all, Christmas Day is in celebration of Jesus’ coming; Christmas Eve is about Mary going into labor.

Perhaps Christmas Day worship should be an even higher priority this year as we go through a time of national disunity, and a time when peace seems to be fleeting. The birth of Jesus is the trumpeting of new hope, and God’s saving grace.

This will be my first Christmas as a retired pastor, a has-been! The first time in the past 38 Christmas Eves when I have not been involved in a Christmas Eve Candlelight service, and the first time I will be given the choice of being of the congregation as opposed to leading the congregation. I can sleep in on Christmas morning…or until my bladder wakes up! I can sit by the fireplace and drink egg nog and wait for the grandkids to come over. I can turn the TV on and watch a worship service that is well produced…or I can show up with some of the saints and sing of new life, new hope, and “God is with us!”

Seeing Kansas

December 16, 2014

 

A few years ago I was on the top of Pike’s Peak on a clear, beautiful, sunny day. Someone said “You can see Kansas from here!”

My sarcastic nature made me think “Why would you want to see Kansas?” But my next thought was that I wasn’t quite know if we could see Kansas or not. I mean Kansas is a long ways off from Colorado Springs. And, secondly, how do you know where Kansas begins and Colorado ends. There isn’t a definitive line that marks it or a river that you have to cross to get to it…at least on the western side!

So I stood there wondering “Is that really Kansas or not?”

There are certain situations in life…certain sightings, if you will…that we are unsure how to classify. Is the birth of our fourth child…that we hadn’t planned on having…a blessing or an ill-timed additional obligation?

Is the lay-off notice I received the first step of a blessing that will lead me to another profession that I’m passionate about?

Are all the little kids in church an added responsibility and burden that diminishes our energies or the beginning part of a promised future for a congregation?

Was the raising of Jesus by Joseph and Mary seen as being a blessing? I’m sure that Mary could look back at her son and see how she was blessed, but was it seen as being a blessing as they were in the midst of it?

Seeing Kansas is hard from such a distance.

Most of us replay our lives and we ask “What if” questions. We ponder how we might have done things differently. Seldom do we think that maybe we did exactly what God called us to do, and to be exactly where God called us to be.

When we look back we can see the trail that our life made. In our prayerful meditations we can received comfort and encouragement about those times when our path was in sync with the plan of God. We can also painfully recall where we took our own way away from his plan…the effect of it upon us and others, the grief it brought…and rejoice in the fact that God never stopped loving us.

Some of us are in the midst of situations that we are having a hard time seeing there being a blessing involved in it.

But be encouraged! Kansas is out there and the blessings of God will become clearer and clearer as you keep faithfully traveling on.

Misunderstood Generosity

December 1, 2014

 

When Jerry opened the Christmas present that was from his mom and dad he was a little confused and perturbed.

He had graduated from college the previous May and had been fortunate to find a teaching position at a middle school in a rural school district about an hour away from the town he grew up in. It didn’t pay much, but he loved it. He loved seeing young minds suddenly understanding the mathematical methods that he taught.

He was thankful that he was able to be home with family for Christmas. His brother Silas, and twin sisters, Abby and Gail, were there also. Jerry was the youngest, but the only one who still lived in-state.

The box he had opened could have fit in his pocket. He reached into it and pulled out a key chain. He admitted later on that his first thought was “That’s all! A key chain!”

His siblings then each opened a present, and Jerry sat and battled with the conflicted feelings of anger and gratitude. Then his father said, “Oh Jerry! We forgot. You probably would like some keys to put on your key chain. Here’s one to get you started.”

His father reached into his pocket and pulled out a shiny key and handed it to Jerry. It had an “H” letter on the end of it. “H” for Honda.

“Merry Christmas! It’s parked in the garage.”

Jerry was speechless. He walked out into the garage to see a brand new Honda Civic. The box with the key chain had only been the beginning part of the story.

How often do we become confused by the generosity of God because we only have the first part of the story?

Zechariah was confused by God’s promise that he was to have a son. In Luke 1:7 we read that he and Elizabeth “…had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.”

Zechariah was on priestly duty in the temple to burn incense when an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him that Elizabeth was going to have a son and he was to be named John. Zechariah questions this proclamation and is literally rendered speechless.

Zechariah didn’t see the whole picture. Sometimes God’s greatest gifts to our lives aren’t understood until later. Zechariah sees a wife who is past childbearing years. God gives a child who will go before his Son and proclaim the coming of the Messiah.

David’s brothers saw a boy who should have stayed home and been watching the sheep. God gave a courageous leader who would slay a giant.

Sometimes we only see a key chain and God is about to give a key. God is generous in the present and also in the future.

 

Moving the Cross Outside

December 5, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 4, 2013

 

                                  

 

In our decorating of the sanctuary for the Advent season we needed to move some things around. There needed to be space for a place where Christmas cookies and coffee urns were available, and a few Christmas trees that were promoting the theme of our children’s Christmas program.

In the back of our sanctuary there is a eight foot tall heavy wooden cross that has it’s own handcrafted stand. We use it during the season of Lent and move it to the front of the sanctuary. For those who are wondering, there is another cross mounted on the wall at the front of the chancel area.

So this year we moved the cross outside. It is propped up beside a utility shed, looking lonely and forgotten as we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child.

The symbolism of the events has not gone unnoticed by me, although our congregation does not think the cross is an irrelevant relic.

I do, however, believe that we would rather push the Cross of Christ to the side because it makes us too uncomfortable. If you read the history of crucifixions you will discover how brutal they were. The Romans of Jesus‘ day were known for their brutality.

I feel more at peace when I look at a manger surrounded by hay and farm animals than I do with an execution scene complete with the gambling of the executioners to win the robe of one of those men who is hanging above them.

As followers of Jesus we must understand that “the way” goes through the Cross.