Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Worship from undesirables

Leading up to Christmas in our church, we are sharing a series of messages that a few hundred other churches are sharing this year. The emphasis is called Advent Conspiracy, and it is a call to "conspire" to turn the commercialism and consumerism of Christmas upside down, at least in the lives of our church family. The heart of Advent Conspiracy is to worship fully. For many people, when confronted with the birth of Jesus, the result was worship - true, spontaneous, life-changing worship.

Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke tells us about shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem and how angels appeared and proclaimed, "Today in the city of David a Savior was born to you who is the Messiah, the Master." On the night Jesus was born into our world God chose to appear first to a group of shepherds. He didn't choose the king of the land; he didn't choose the powerful or elite of society. He chose some shepherds. Nothing wrong with shepherds. Shepherding has a long and distinguished history. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and King David were all shepherds. However, in first century Israel, the title and position of shepherd was a little less than honored. A rabbinic teaching from Jeremias says that most of the time shepherds were dishonest and thieving. A midrash, a Jewish teaching on Psalm 23 states, "There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd." In Israel in their day, a shepherd's testimony was not allowed in court. These guys most likely were not the owners of the sheep. Rather they were hired to do the hard work of leading sheep all over the countryside to find food and water. They spent weeks unsupervised and were often accused of taking from the flock or taking some other land owner's food and water for their sheep. Even Jesus distinguishes between the good shepherd and the hireling in John 10:11-13. Certainly not all shepherds deserved dishonor. The shepherds outside of Bethlehem may very well have been devout, God-honoring men who realized the animals in their care would possibly be used as a holy sacrifice at the temple just a few miles to the north in Jerusalem. At the same time, it seems that God often chooses to use unexpected, even undesirable people when He delivers His message. Abraham, Moses, Jacob, King David, the Apostle Paul and many others had some serious issues at some point in their lives, yet God chose each one to unveil His work in our world and in our lives.

Back to shepherds: These lowly, disreputable, distrusted hired hands, who were considered outcasts and Wby and large shunned by the mainstream, believed the message they heard from God that night. They went to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph and the baby just like the angel said. When they left they couldn't help but tell everyone they met and they worshiped.

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:17-20, NIV)

I hope you have met the Messiah and I hope you will continue to worship at Christmas and all year long.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A teenager’s worship experience

Advent Conspiracy is a concept developed by three pastors who have challenged hundreds of churches to take a step back from the consumer culture that dominates the celebration of Christmas and instead seek to make a real difference as we focus on the arrival of Jesus into our world. The four themes of AC are Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All. I want to share a few thoughts from this message series over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas Day. Today let’s begin thinking about worshiping fully as we celebrate Christmas.

Christmas should be the easiest time of the year for Christians to truly worship God, but because of all the distractions, it may actually be the hardest. So just what do we worship at Christmastime? We want to say “Jesus,” right? But that would be the “Sunday School” answer – you know, the answer that we know is the “right” answer, but not the real answer. I read where someone said, “We spend our time and energy on what matters most to us.” So what does our time, money and energy say about who or what we really worship? Advent Conspiracy is a call to come and truly worship Jesus – God who became flesh – no matter how strong the cultural pull to worship anything or everything else. When we look at the Christmas Story, we realize that nearly everyone who was confronted with the birth of Jesus had the same response: worship. Let’s take a look at the worship that resulted in the lives of some of those people.

In the first chapter of Luke, the Bible tells the story of a young girl named Mary who was chosen by God to miraculously give birth to Jesus, who would be called the Son of God. After asking the angel Gabriel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” her amazing response was, “May it be to me as you have said.” Then when she went to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who would soon give birth to John the Baptist, Mary breaks out into spontaneous worship. Her words recorded in Scripture have become known as Mary’s Song, or The Magnificat. Her outbreak of worship begins with the words, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” I invite you read her words in Luke 1:46-55. Mary sang of her state as God’s humble servant, yet she realized that God was mindful of her. She celebrated the fact that she would be called “blessed because the Mighty One has done great things for me, holy is his name.” She reminds us all that God is merciful to all who fear him and that he will fulfill his promises to Israel.

What an amazing display of worship from a young girl in her teens living in a seemingly insignificant place on the far edge of the Roman Empire. The most significant thing in her life so far was her upcoming marriage to a young carpenter – and she must have wondered if that was in jeopardy because of this baby she was now carrying. Yet when faced with something strange and amazing which God was doing, she chose to worship.

This Christmas season, I choose to worship. Will you?