“So the meaning of Christmas is not only that God replaces shadows with Reality, but also that he takes the reality and makes it real to his people. He writes it on our hearts. He does not lay his Christmas gift of salvation and transformation down for you to pick up in your own strength. He picks it up and puts in your heart and in your mind, and seals to you that you are a child of God.”
Making It Real for His People #SolidJoys http://solidjoys.desiringgod.org/en/devotionals/making-it-real-for-his-people
What can worship leaders, pastors and creative leaders do to help Christians experience the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas? http://worshipsessions.com.au/site/teaching
Christmas can be a stressful time of year, and Christians are not immune to the pressures and demands of this season. Many Christians find it difficult to significantly engage with Christmas on a spiritual level. Have you ever heard a Christian say “it just doesn’t feel like Christmas?”
The Christian experience of Christmas should be much richer, more distinct and more meaningful than the Christmas experience promoted across our culture. But for this to happen, Christmas must become more than just a birthday party for Jesus and a time for family reunions.
For Christians to gain a deeper and richer appreciation for the Christmas season as a Christian event (rather than just a cultural one) we must take a step back and look at Christmas in the broader context of the historical Christian calendar.
For centuries believers have followed the Christian Year as part of their spiritual formation and discipleship. According to this ancient tradition, Christmas was celebrated as a twelve-day feast, not just a one-day event. This celebration was the culmination of four weeks of spiritual preparation and anticipation known as Advent.
The well-known Internet Monk blogger Michael Spencer illustrates the difference between Advent and Christmas. He says, “Christmas is joyous, but the joy comes after weeks of waiting, watching, lamenting and calling upon God. Advent is that season of waiting; of looking for the signs and promises of the Saviour in the Scriptures and in the world.”1
I believe that rediscovering the spiritual rhythm and preparation of Advent will help Christians experience the true meaning of Christmas.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas – when our culture is shouting at us to “spend!” “buy!” and “consume!” – the season of Advent teaches us to slow down and reflect on God’s story and our place in it, it teaches us patience, and cultivates within us a child-like sense of anticipation and longing. Advent does this by helping us to remember the historical silence of the Scriptures between the Old and New Testaments and the expectation of a soon-coming Messiah. Advent also helps us to anticipate Jesus’ future return and the eventual completion of His work in redeeming and renewing all of Creation.
Advent spirituality is about recognising that we are living in the “now, but not yet…” between the inauguration and fulfilment, between promise and completion. During Advent, the words of John the Baptist ring in our ears “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him,”2 as we eagerly await the Messiah’s return. For Christians, Advent is a time for spiritual preparation, reflection and repentance, which directly opposes our culture’s penchant for busy-ness, over-spending and over-indulgence in the lead up to Christmas.
Christmas is more than just a celebration of Christ’s arrival. In the light of Advent, Christmas becomes the fulfilment of the expectation that builds throughout the Advent season. At Christmas, we remember that God broke through into our earthly dimension. Through His birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ worked to restore the earth and all creation from within, according to God’s good plan and purpose. Our response as His followers is to join with Him, today and every day, in His ongoing work of restoring the world unto Himself, until the day that He returns.3
In this way, Christmas calls us to a tangible response as followers of Jesus: to live out ‘incarnational spirituality’4 – an expression of Christian faith that embodies the life of Christ into the world in which we live. The prayer of the Christmas season is “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”5 It is a reminder that “the work of restoring creation has begun,”6 and that we are called to join in that work, empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit.
By understanding and integrating these historically important Christian ideas into worship gatherings leading up to Christmas, worship leaders and pastors can help those they lead to discover a deeper and more significant Christmas spirituality. That is, where faith overflows into tangible and intentional expressions of incarnational Christianity – a faith that is in the world but not of it.
Worship leaders and songwriters can help their communities experience Advent by choosing and writing songs, prayers and using language that focuses on the expectation of Christ’s coming; and saving the celebration of his arrival until Christmas Day.
Worship leaders can research, read and learn more about the seasons of Advent and Christmas in order to help their congregations wrap their Christmas experience around God’s story, not the story of commerce, culture and consumption.7
As worship leaders and creative influencers, we have the opportunity to shape the ways in which our worshipping communities experience Christmas, and ultimately influence the kind of Christianity the live out between Sundays. As we learn and immerse ourselves in the rich meaning of the “Christian Year” and prayerfully contextualise the themes and ideas of these seasons into our worship gatherings, I believe that Christmas can once again become a primarily Christian event in our churches – one that encourages us in our faith and empowers us in our witness as we remember, experience and live out the Truth of Christmas.
1. Spencer, Michael; http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-classic-michael-spencer-helps-us-prepare-for-advent (Accessed on 1 December 2011)
2. Matthew 3:3b (See also John 1:23 and Isaiah 40:3) (NIV)
3. For a balanced and insightful look at the role of Christians as restorers, see “The Next Christians” (DoubleDay Publishing, 2010) by Gabe Lyons.
4. Webber, Robert “Ancient-Future Time”, Baker Books (Grand Rapids, MI), 2004, page 61-71.
5. Matthew 6:10 (NIV)
6. Webber, page 61
7. Robert Webber’s book “Ancient-Future Time” would be a great introduction to understanding Advent, Christmas and the entire Christian calendar.
THIS ARTICLE CAME FROM http://worshipsessions.com.au/site/teaching
WordPress.com users published more than 595 million posts in 2016. That’s slightly more than I managed to publish, but I do love the way much of my older content continues to be useful and encouraging to people all over the globe. Here are my top 5 most viewed posts this year. If you have only just followed me, you might like to check out why they are still popular.
5. How to Encourage your music team even when you’re not the leader
How great would it be if every single player and singer and sound technician took up the opportunity to positively influence the way their team functions. Consider the following list, 10 ways team players can be more encouraging members of their music team. . .
4. All of Creation Sing with me now, the veil is torn
Without being zapped or burnt to a crisp we sinful humans can now see the “glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). Mercy Me’s song All of Creation gets quite a mention as well.
3. The Conundrum of Keys, Capos and Congregational Singing
This post contains four rules of thumb that I find work well when selecting singable and playable keys for church singing.
2. The Cross Has Made You Flawless
This post generated quite a lot of discussion – around the song Flawless. See what you think. In Christ we stand before our heavenly Father as perfect, flawless people. We are wrapped up in Christ’s righteousness.
1. Never Alone
This most viewed post shares a congregational song, Never Alone. It has a simple melody (great for church singing) and the lyrics bring such comfort. Christ is with us! We are not alone . . . no matter how alone we may feel.
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
(NLT Matthew 28:20)
Thanks for reading in 2016! Merry Christmas!
At this time of year many people write and share a recount of the year that has been. They assemble great photos to illustrate their ventures, and list the things they and their family have achieved at work, at school, at home, at church, the house renovations and holidays.
While it is great to reflect on and share all these blessings, in thankfulness to the God who grants them, I can’t help thinking the ‘rosy Christmas letter’ can be somewhat discouraging to others, to people who consider their own personal achievements as nothing but disappointing by comparison. Perhaps their circumstances and God’s plans have taken them down a more difficult and lonely path. (And if I am being honest, such loneliness occurs even in the midst of a busy household at times.)
So, if I were to write an honest Christmas letter about the struggles of the year, here are some of the things I would like to share – to help others know they are not alone. Life is hard and being a Christian doesn’t magically end the difficulties, but God is good and there is joy to be found in Christ amidst the difficulties.
* I have faced ongoing challenges as a parent, spouse, home owner and friend. I have fought to love my children and husband, to serve selflessly.
* I have faced various mysterious and apparently unrelated health issues, which have shown only slight signs of improvement. These challenges will continue in the New Year.
* I have fought the discouragement of watching others pursue fulfilment apart from Christ, and disappointment with myself for not knowing how/being willing to challenge others for such attitudes.
* I have fought to acknowledge the reality of God and his grace in my own thinking about the circumstances of day to day living.
* I have fought disappointment with myself when I see pride or envy, or any of the things Christ died for, rising up in me again.
* I have worked hard as a teacher, with many many unseen extra hours of toil. While this brings some moments of great joy, largely it is draining and I see little gain for all my efforts.
* I have sometimes been cold to others and showed little genuine concern for them.
* I have become more aware of my own sin and selfishness.
* I feel like I have aged more and had worse quality sleep this year than any to date. The ‘days of trouble’ that the writer of Ecclesiastes speaks of have certainly arrived (or at least made an appearance).
* I have been hooked on checking my phone notifications and other comforts that I selfishly enjoy.
* I have battled against staying up later than I should, mindless television and being more excited about things that have no eternal value than I should be!
But all these things do NOT bring me to a point of despair! (Sorry if it sounds that way.) These struggles prove that Christ is at work in me and this is the main reason I can be joyful this Christmas!
As James says (1:2-4): “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
The ‘World’ just doesn’t get this. They think we have bought into a big fat lie which only brings us guilt and hard work.
But we have met the risen Saviour, we have seen the glory of God in the face of Christ, God with us, Immanuel!
What else can we do but follow him?
Blessings to you this Christmas,
At Christmas we remember the coming of the infant King of Heaven, Jesus Christ. God could have sent him as a fully grown man, and provided a grand entrance with enough pomp and circumstance to rival any contemporary celebrity. Yet God chose for him the womb of a virgin and a lowly cave/stable as his first resting place on the planet. Jesus shared the growing pains of our humanity so that he could be our perfect counsellor, Saviour and Lord. This King of Heaven is coming again and we probably should spend a lot more time praying for such an outcome, rather than sitting comfortably in the limitations of our mortality.
Paul Baloche’s KING OF HEAVEN (2012 – “The Same Love” album) is a song which captures something of the longing we (should) have for Jesus’ return. Here is his Christmas version of the song combined beautifully with Hark the Herald Angels Sing:
And here is the original song, performed with All Sons and Daughters: (don’t mind the 40 seconds of silliness at the start – the song officially gets going around 45 secs. I’m determined to included KING OF HEAVEN as one of our congregational songs next year.)
KING OF HEAVEN
Jesus, let Your kingdom come here
Let Your will be done here in us
Jesus, there is no one greater
You alone are Savior, show the world Your love
King of Heaven come down
King of Heaven come now
Let Your glory reign shining light the day
King of Heaven come
King of Heaven rise up
Who can stand against us?
You are strong to save in Your mighty name
King of Heaven come
We are children of Your mercy
Rescued for Your glory
We cry, Jesus set our hearts towards You
Every eye would see You lifted high
Ooh, ooh, ooh, King of Heaven come
Worship Together recently posted a series of Advent and Christmas songs as set lists to mix and match. They include traditional carols as well as recent praise and worship songs. You can watch a New Song Cafe video and play along with the charts! I hope you find something useful for your service planning. Blessings!
Set List #1
Set List #2
Set List #3
Set List #4
Image from https://au.pinterest.com/explore/sheet-music-crafts/
Today’s post comes from the Gospel Coalition and echoes much of what I spoke of a few days ago – about the great worth of remembering God’s great works at Christmas time. I am currently reading Keller’s book mentioned below, titled “Hidden Christmas” – which is surprising me more and more, in a good way, with each passing chapter. It would make a great gift this Christmas.
“Christmastime is here. For some of you, that sentence evokes nostalgia and joy. Others of you, not so much. Yet one thing many of us share in common this time of year is hearing the classic readings from the Gospels (if not in church then from Linus). And all the while, we can become so familiar with the incarnation that we end up domesticating it.
Christmas is familiar, but it isn’t tame. As Tim Keller puts it in his new book, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ (Viking), “Christmas is both more wondrous and more threatening than we imagine.” Working from the writings of Matthew, Luke, and John, he illumines the modern import of the ancient story.
I asked Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and vice president of TGC, why neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would’ve bothered with Christmas, how unbelievers try to “name” Jesus, and more. (And yes, this brief book would make an excellent Christmas present.)
In the book I say that about the theme of “light in the darkness” that’s so prominent not only in the biblical understanding of Christ’s birth (Isa. 9:2; Matt. 4:16) but also in most contemporary celebrations of Christmas. The Bible doesn’t say “from the world a light has dawned” but “upon the world a light has dawned.” The point is that the world is a dark place that needs salvation to come from outside of it. This means the end of cheery statements like, “If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place.” No, we can’t. We don’t have what it takes.
The Bible doesn’t say ‘from the world a light has dawned’ but ‘upon the world a light has dawned.’ The world is a dark place that needs salvation to come from outside of it.
This is a clear-eyed, realistic approach to our problems. It’s not rah-rah optimism. Yet it’s not pessimistic either, because there ishope, and a certainty that God will eventually destroy all evil.
Why is it foolish to rush past the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel?
Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus does a lot of work. First, it roots Jesus in history. The gospel doesn’t begin “once upon a time.” Christ isn’t a legend; he was a flesh-and-blood human being in space and time. Second, the genealogy includes women who were racial and cultural “outsiders” (Rahab and Ruth) as well as involved in incest, adultery, and prostitution (Tamar, “Uriah’s wife,” and Rahab).
Even the ‘begats’ of the Bible drip with God’s mercy.
In ancient and less individualistic times, one’s genealogy was like one’s résumé. Like today’s résumés, many things were usually expunged to make it look better to the reader. Women were seldom put in ancient genealogies at all, let alone women who reminded readers of the sordid sins and corruption of ancestors such as Judah and David. All of these figures would have been disowned or expunged from a normal genealogy, but here they are not. They are all—male and female, king and prostitute, Jew and Gentile—equally part of Jesus’s family. So even the “begats” of the Bible drip with God’s mercy.
Neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would have bothered with Christmas, you observe. Why not?
Moralism is essentially the idea that you can save yourself through your good works. And this makes Christmas unnecessary. Why would God need to become human in order to live and die in our place if we can fulfill the requirements of righteousness ourselves? Relativism is essentially the idea that no one is really “lost,” that everyone should live by their own lights and determine right and wrong for themselves. The “all-accepting god of love” many modern people believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.
The ‘all-accepting god of love’ many moderns believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.
Why was the naming of baby Jesus significant?
All parents have the right to name their own child. It’s a sign of their authority over the child, and the power they have over how the child will live and who the child will become. This was even truer in ancient patriarchal societies than it is now. But the angel doesn’t allow Joseph or Mary to name Jesus. One reason is that Jesus was the first child ever born who was far older than his parents! The other is that, even though Jesus submitted to his human parents authority during his childhood (Luke 2:51), they weren’t ultimately his master. He was their master. By refusing to let Mary and Joseph name their son, the angel was essentially saying something like this: “If Jesus is in your life, you’re not his manager—he’s your manager. You don’t name him or tell him who he is—he’s come to tell you who you are.”
What can we learn about the difference between closed-minded doubt and open-minded doubt from contrasting Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1?
When the angel Gabriel appeared and told Zechariah he would have a son, Zechariah expressed doubts about how this could come to such an elderly couple (Luke 1:18)—and he was disciplined for his doubt (Luke 1:20). When Gabriel appears and tells Mary she will have a son, she expresses doubts to the same angel in almost the same words—wondering how this could come to a virgin (Luke 1:34). Yet there’s no word of rebuke, only a further explanation. Why the difference? The only real possibility is that the inner motivations and dynamics of Zechariah’s and Mary’s doubts were different. There’s a kind of doubt that really is seeking more information—that “wants” to believe if it’s possible. There’s also a kind of doubt that really is looking for a way out, that doesn’t want to believe or submit, that’s looking for a way to keep control of one’s own life.
This is a wonderfully nuanced approach to doubt. The Bible doesn’t view doubts as always rebellious, nor does it encourage people to live in doubt perpetually. That’s why we’re told to “be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22).”
A while ago I posted this on Face Book (with some degree of frustration). It was met with widespread affirmation!
“Wish this was in the Bible: Dear children, you will gain much freedom and respect by showing self-control in your use of digital technology, which feeds egos and selfishness (there is a reason for the label ‘i’ on many of these devices) and largely discourages you from living out your faith by acts of kindness and service. What really matters is faith expressed in loving action. Don’t be slaves to the inertia of the digital interface…but slaves of Christ, free children of God. You are my hands and feet, not just my fingers.”
It seems that many Christian parents are also struggling with the digital revolution and the changes it has made for how our teens are relating to us and each other.
Earlier this year our Sunday paper included a news article about “iPlods“- a rather sad nickname for the primary school children involved in their research. These children were so unfit and lacking in basic core strength, they didn’t have control over their core muscles. They exhibited “an inability to control what their spines were doing. . . The vast majority did not have the core strength, flexibility or co-ordination to achieve exercises considered “basic foundations” of movement.” (Schools put iPlods through their paces, June 30, Sunday Mail)
But the problem is not just potential long term physical damage, or missing out on the simple joys of childhood. The problem is for adults, teens and children alike. The problem is with the tendencies of our selfish hearts, expressed here in Philippians 2:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
How precisely does this nail what is wrong with this “i”-everything era? Paul could have penned this as a direct instruction to us in 2016! Despite its many useful applications, modern technology both feeds and makes socially acceptable (and desirable?) our desire to be selfish. We can now sit and play endlessly throughout the day and night, amusing ourselves and ignoring others. We (think we) look very sophisticated, very advanced. Yet this perception makes it just that much harder to disconnect from our self-interest and tune in to the needs and interests of those around us.
Casting Crowns, in the song ‘House of Their Dreams’ (Album:”Thrive” 2014), described this modern plight, or perhaps blight!
“Now they’re trapped in their own worlds, in their own wars
With their cell phones and the closed doors
It’s funny how quiet and peaceful that it seems
But they’re all alone together
In the house of their dreams.”
This chorus holds up to us a shocking mirror-image of the reality so many of us have fallen into – sitting in separate rooms, plugged into our own distractions and missing out on the relationships we have been planted in the midst of. Perhaps it is time to dig ourselves out of this sad situation?
It can start with simply putting the phone down – or unplugging the Wifi!
Ever since the Roman church fixed Christmas on December 25 (440AD) there have been a vast array of opinions about whether or not we Christians should in fact be celebrating Christ’s birth in this way. Some people wholeheartedly support it, and go all out in their celebrations. Others try to avoid it, and mock or despise those who do celebrate Christ’s birth at the time of an old Pagan Sun-god festival. Some families I know refuse to partake in the gift giving of the day (with much sadness for their children).
In 1647 Christmas was abolished in Britain by Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan parliament. December 25 was a working day from 1644 to 1656. There were riots across the country. Christmas church services were broken up by armed soldiers. Shopkeepers came off the worst: if they closed then soldiers forced them to open; if they opened, the rioters forced them to close! Christmas decorations in London were torn down and burned by the mayor. Christmas puddings were banned.
In America the Puritan leaders followed suit and banned Christmas in some states (1659). A New England state law said:“Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas shall pay 5 shillings as a fine.” And you could buy a lot for 5 shillings! The Christmas ban was dropped in 1681 but it wasn’t until 1836 that Alabama said 25 December was to be a holiday, then everyone in the USA copied them. By then people in Victorian Britain had lost interest in Christmas, but when Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 they decided Christmas was a wonderful idea.
For me Christmas has always been a wonderful time of year, full of family fun and traditions – but does that justify the celebration? While the commercialism is distracting (and the concept of an jolly Father figure who rewards us according to merit is in total opposition to the forgiveness and grace found in Jesus) I do think there is a case for celebrating wholeheartedly as Christians.
And it all comes down to remembering.
Throughout the history of God’s redemptive intervention into our fallen world, He told us to keep remembering what he has done. For example, it was on the basis of covenant promises, given to Abraham, that Israel was rescued from slavery through Moses – slavery to both Egypt and sin. The Passover Lamb which saved them from death (well, God saved them!) was so important to remember that a whole special menu plan was devised. As people ate they would remember and teach their children to remember what God had done. When the new generation of Israel emerged from the wilderness wanderings (their parents caused), Moses spent a whole book (Deuteronomy) explaining how important it was to remember and obey all the laws God had given, to guide and direct their new lives in the Promised Land. They were to live lives worthy of their God and show the world what he had done for them. He rescued them into a covenant relationship, for the glory of His Name.
So why wouldn’t we remember the one event which reminds us of the time God stepped into human history Himself. This is when the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, to save us! While the Cross is the thing that saves us, we must remember the beginning of that journey to the Cross: Christ born as a helpless baby, fully God and fully man, in such lowly circumstances. He was born, destined to be despised and rejected, for our sake.
What a great opportunity we have at Christmas time, when even non-Christians are willing to celebrate the birth of a Saviour whom they do not know! They are remembering, even though they don’t fully understand. We have the full story to share – to explain to them what they are really celebrating! Let’s open the dialogue at every opportunity, even in those long line-ups at the checkout! Let’s show them how to remember in thankfulness and awe the Incarnation of God’s son, sent to save.
May the glory go to our great God this Christmas – as we remember!
You may also enjoy: