Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Silent Night

It's been a long time since I've been to a midnight watch service.  When I was a child, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve were both carried out until Midnight....I remember the organist would "chime" the twelve strikes of midnight....and we would light the candles held by each person with their hands guarded by a circle of heavy paper (see the drawing in the sidebar).  There was something magical in those services....for one thing, it's the only time of the year when we were allowed to stay up til midnight..  And if there was falling snow outside...I did not worry about getting home safely...rather I would be enraptured by the snow falling---lit up by the Christmas lights as it fell.  I implicitly trusted my Daddy and my Father to get us home safely.

There also used to be a Thanksgiving service on Thanksgiving morning.  My brother and I did not attend that service...We stayed home and with the Macy's Day parade playing on the TV, we cut out and glued construction paper into shapes like the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.  (only we called them "Indians" back then). Our creations would grace the table as the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving spread.

These days, it is very hard to find a true "Watch Night Service" or on Easter, a "SunRise Service"  ..no one wants the hassle of bundling up the kids and going out on a cold snowy night to go to a 4 hour long church service.  And people are too married to their beds to arise before dawn.  But something important is lost in those sins of convenience ...( is it a sin??)  ...Because like David said when he purchased the threshing floor from a man who wanted to give it to him.  David said "I cannot offer a sacrifice that cost me nothing."  If we make it too easy to attend church, if we juggle around the times to make them convenient...are we not offering free sacrifices?  And is that not a contradiction in  terms?  Does not our offering God our comfort and exhaustion put us in a place of "emptying" ourselves of our schedules, our sleep, our saftey (on snowy roads), and is that not a sweet  fragrance in the nostrils of God?  He certainly did give us that back and much more as he revealed himself to us in a new way each year.

There was wonder and awe for me as a child in those services...The baby Jesus was real to me....the night dark and cold....I could hear the "cattle lowing"  I could see the glimmer of angels singing on high. I heard my mom's alto, my dad's bass and my brother's young soprano joining mine as we worshiped at the manger.  We heard the Christmas story read for the hundredth time and it was always new and it stirred me to tears. Forgotten for the time being were the gifts wrapped and lying under the (real) tree at home; we had a King to welcome into the world!

Now Christmas Eves are the Silent Nights.  No joyous singing flooding the sanctuary.  No hearing of the Word read aloud.  No. It's  7:00 and bang, we'd better be out by 8:00 or there will be hell to pay for the pastor.
Maybe I'm a relic of a lost time.  A dinosaur.  But I feel sad for the kids today that they do not have memories like mine.  And back then the kids were not taken out of the service to watch DVD's...we were taught to sit and be quiet....the little ones fall asleep on mom's lap or shoulder...add the ones too old to sleep are lost in  wonder...a wonder that Amazon cannot sell. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

O Come---Let us Adore Him!


It's been a while since I've written anything personal in this blog.  Christmas is fast approaching.  Yesterday I was out for several hours and when I got  back home I found that our Scrooge-house was made festive by my daughter and her boyfriend....They had decorated it and done a wonderful job...So that kind of made my day.

I find this year that Christmas is sliding in under my radar.  I have not been to any malls or stores so the retail aspect of the celebration is missing.  Of course websites try to cash in on the holiday by having great sales and some of them have "decorated" their websites....but somehow that is not the same as being in a crowded mall and seeing the lines to sit on Santa's lap  and struggling to find a parking place within  a mile of the mall entrance.   Of course those days might be a thing of the past.  Does anyone  shop at a mall anymore....when the world is at our fingertips online?  Will all stores go the way of the book store crisis?  It is a changing world we live in ---and not always for the better.

And of course that is only the secular version of Christmas.  Maybe with the malls out of the way, there will be more room for the infant Jesus to fill us with wonder and adoration.  I am reading a book where the author talks about "the lost art of Adoration"...and that same thing was repeated in an issue of Charisma magazine.  Have I adored the baby King?   Has the miracle wrought in Mary's womb stirred me to praise?  Has the fulfillment of God's promise made back in the Garden of Eden struck me with amazement?  Does all of this cause me to set my sights on the day when he returns...not as a babe but as a King to gather all those who are truly his together?

It is all miraculous.

We do not see many miracles these days....similar to the state of God's people who were awaiting a Messiah to come and rule and to free their nation from Roman rule....God had been silent for 400 years.  Now, thankfully, we have God's Spirit, so to his people God has not been silent.  But culturally, God is being more and more kicked out of the realm of everyday life.  Teachers in public schools are not allowed to speak of him..."in God we Trust" is being disparaged and they want to remove it from our money, just like prayer has been removed from school.  God is silent in the face of these affronts.  And in the middle East and Northern Africa, Christians are being slaughtered and yes there are some miracles going on there but all in all, Evil is advancing and crowding God out of the culture.

It seems like God is silent.

God, where are  You?  Come and defend your people!  Yet the time is not right...I'm afraid that much more blood will be shed before the King returns.  Why is this?  Because there are still billions who need to hear and respond to the Gospel message. God wants to gather every person who would seek him to himself.    And the price is the blood of martyrs.

So what does this all have to do with Christmas?

Looking back at the Babe, should turn our sights to the next return of the King.  We should be lost in the wonder of the visitations of the Most High God to this sin-wracked planet.  Why should he care so much/? Why does he Love so much?  Enough to condense his "God-ness" down into an 8 lb baby (just guessing at the baby's weight)....enough to live obscurely and then rejected as he began to "go public" with who he really was.  No one wanted to believe that this man---was really the offspring of God come to seek and to save that which was lost.  They were waiting for the King to come....not understanding all the prophecies which discussed his humility and low beginnings...that he would be "despised and rejected of men;" that he would suffer and die shedding his blood as the final sacrifice for the sins of this sin-uglied planet. All of which must occur prior to the return of the King....this time bearing a sword of judgement against those who have shed the blood of his people; against those who have uttered false prophecies; against those for whom wealth and materialism was an un-scalable wall separating them from a life of faith.  He will seek, find and rescue those of humble hearts...those who have refused to deny his Name even in the face of death.

The wonder of the Incarnation --may it fill  your hearts this season.  The impending Glory of his next Return--should strike your heart with JOY.  And if it does not, then perhaps you need to ready your heart by handing it over to the Babe and to the coming King.  Because there will come a time when "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus the Christ is Lord"  unfortunately for many that confession will come too late to save them.

O Come Let us Adore Him.!!