Sunday, December 1, 2013

Worship Fully

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  This is the first in a series on the Advent Conspiracy.

Several years ago I was at the bank on the Monday after Thanksgiving, and the two people in line in front of me where talking about their Thanksgiving holiday.  They were both talking about how much they enjoyed it, and how relaxing it was, and then one asked the other if they were ready for Christmas, and as if it was totally scripted,  the woman said no.  She said she dreaded the whole season, and just couldn’t wait to get through it and be done with the whole thing.  It reminded me of Dr. Seuss’ classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas in which we are told that “the Grinch hated Christmas, the whole Christmas season, oh don’t ask why, no one quite knows the reason.”  I’m sure that many of us can identify not just with the woman in the bank, but also even with the Grinch sometimes, although most of us could probably articulate the reasons: busy schedules, crazy shopping, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations, finding the perfect gifts, the kids having two weeks off from school.  Our wishes, like the woman, are often not to enjoy this time of the year, but instead a desire for it all to be done and just to make it through.  Is this how Christmas is supposed to be?  Is this really what Christmas is about?  As you might imagine, I don’t think it is.  I think there is another way to do Christmas.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent means to prepare, and so we take this time to prepare for the coming of the Christ child, and as our candle lighting liturgy said this morning, that is language that we use that Christ is coming, Christ is always coming, and yet Christ is already here as well.  It’s an already and a not quite yet.  Christ is present in the world, and yet we are preparing for Christ to come into the world, as we will say later when we gather for communion: “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.”  Christmas is like that as well, because Christmas is not just a day, but really a season.  One month, of 1/12 of the year, is set aside to make preparation for and then celebrating Christmas.  While within the church there are other seasons, such as the 40 days of Lent, and Easter is also 50 days, most of us don’t really think of those times, nor do we have up decorations for Easter for 50 days, although I’d be happy with 50 more days of Cadbury cream eggs.  Christmas is already here, we are inundated with it, and Christmas is not yet here as well because we are preparing the way for the coming of the Christ child, and so how do we do that?  How do we prepare for Christmas while approaching Christmas in a fundamentally different way?  That is what we are going to be talking about for the next four weeks, and it begins with worship, as we are called to worship fully.

Listen to this translation of today’s passage from The Message by Eugene Peterson: “Make sure that you don't get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can't afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don't loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!”

“Make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-to-day obligations that you lose track of time and become oblivious to God.”  That is one of the things that people dislike about the Christmas season is that we get pulled in a hundred different directions, and then we are also constantly being told that getting more things will make us happier and more content.  We spend one day a year giving thanks, hopefully to God, for what we have in our lives, and then we go out the next day, or for some later that night, in order to buy things they just said they didn’t need in order to be happy.  These are the things that distract us and keep us from experiencing the true gift of Christmas, when we are fighting and “grabbing everything is sight,” that certainly sounds a lot like of stores and shoppers on black Friday, then we are missing what time it is, for “now is the moment for [us] to wake from sleep.”

But what does it mean to worship fully?  What does it mean to do something fully?  It means to give everything we have, to give our all to the effort.  After our Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, I was full.  I had given everything I had to consuming as much as I could.  I couldn’t give any more.  Jesus says we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds and all our strength.  We are to love God fully, with all that we have, to give all that we have to God, not to be distracted by the things that cause us to lose track of the time.  We are called to worship God fully.  (SLIDE 4) The Hebrew word for worship is Shachah, and while shachah is translated as worship it really means to bow down, to prostrate, to fall down flat.  When we are in an attitude of worship, we are giving submission to someone or something, because we can worship both people and also things like money or possessions, and that is certainly something we battle all the time, but maybe more importantly at Christmas.

That’s why we have people saying, “keep Christ in Christmas,” or “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and we know they must be true because they rhyme.  Isn’t it sort of ironic that to counteract hyper consumerism and consumption that takes place at Christmas that we are going to engage in even more consumption to tell people how opposed we are to it.  And of course if you go to the incredibly jam packed mall you’ll find lots of cars that have those bumper stickers on it, with the people inside practicing the very thing that their cars are protesting against.  They might be worshipping something, but I’m not sure it’s Christ.  Now is the time for us to worship fully, because in hearing the Christmas story what we hear about is worship.  (SLIDE 5, MARY) In the passage we heard this morning about the angel announcing to Mary that she is to bear a child, Mary’s response, which we didn’t hear, is known as the magnificat, because Mary says my soul magnifies the Lord.  I’ve been pondering that statement a lot this week in thinking about how we worship God, and Mary’s response that her soul magnifies the Lord, and wondering if my soul magnifies the Lord.  I’d have to say that it often doesn’t.  Does your soul magnify the Lord?

And then of course there are the shepherds, who really represent the ideal of worship that begins the Christmas story and that still resonates with us today. They are out in the fields, keeping watch of their flocks by night, which is the most dangerous time for the flocks, because that is when many of the predators are out hunting, and an angel appears to them an announces that in Bethlehem that the savior has been born, and they decide to go see what is going on.  They leave their flocks behind, probably their only possessions, and they make their way to Bethlehem, and what do they do when they get their?  They worship, and even after they leave and go back to their flocks they continue rejoicing, and Mary too treasurers all these things in her heart.  I’ve often wondered how many other people the angels visited that night.  I don’t think it was just the shepherds, that there had to be others, but the shepherds are the only ones who went.  They shepherds are the only ones who left everything behind to follow, just as the disciples would later be called to do, just as we are called to do.  The shepherds were the only ones who went that night and worshipped.  I’m sure the others all had plenty of good excuses for why they couldn’t make it, just like the shepherds could have said they couldn’t leave their sheep behind, but instead they went, and they worshipped.  There are lots of things that can distract us, dinner parties, shopping trips, family gatherings.  “I’d like to go, but…”  “I’d like to hear the good news, to experience that hope, but…”  I want to worship, but…”  At this time of the year we have a lot of big buts.

We are called to be in worship.  Christmas began with worship and it continues with worship, and it becomes worship when we set ourselves aside, we set aside our own plans and desires and we give everything to God, we worship God with all that we are and all that we have, when we decide to worship fully, when we decide to focus not on the gifts we need to buy, not on the gifts we might receive, not on who we are going the pass the fruitcake we receive on to, but instead focus on the greatest gift that the world has ever received, the gift given to us of a baby, born in a backwater village in a backwater part of then the world’s greatest empire, born to poor, insignificant parents, born and wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.  A baby who brought hope and light into the world, a baby who people came to worship.

We are a broken people, we live in a broken world, full of broken relationships, and God recognized this and so sent us a gift.  Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save the world.  Paul tells us to wake up, to be aware of the time, to put on the armor of Christ, just like we’ll put on that sweater we will inevitably receive for Christmas, and to focus on what is important.  Christmas is not a time to become hyper in everything we do, consuming and scheduling, it is a time to slow down, to wait, to prepare.  We can choose to worship the mall, or we can choose to worship Christ.  We can choose to worship conspicuous consumption, or we can choose to worship Christ.  We can choose to worship our stuff, and try and achieve happiness, fulfillment and success through our things, or we can choose to find that through Christ, to worship Christ, to prostrate ourselves and accept the greatest gift the world has received.  Do not be distracted by things of the world Paul says, focus on Christ, prepare again for the coming of Christ, know the time.  Christmas began with worship, and it still begins with worship, for it is only by beginning with worship that we can move onto spending less, giving more and loving all. May it be so my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

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