More Than A Birthday Party For Jesus? 

away-in-a-manger-king-size-bed-jesus

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.

Ryan Day is the Worship Pastor at Gymea Baptist Church
www.gymeabaptist.org.au   www.ryanday.com.au

References:
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

Setlists for Christmas

christmas-tree-sheet-musicWorship 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

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Glory In The Highest) // Rend Collective

Looking For A Savior // United Pursuit

O Come, O Come Emmanuel // Crowder

We Have A Savior // Hillsong Worship

 Set List #2

Emmanuel (God With Us Forever) // Bryan and Katie Torwalt

Angels (Singing Gloria) // Matt Redman

Adore // Chris Tomlin

When Hope Came Down // Kari Jobe

Set List #3

Even So Come // Passion

Give Me Jesus // Jeremy Camp

He Shall Reign Forevermore // Chris Tomlin

O Come Let Us Adore Him // Hillsong Worship

Set List #4

Hearts Waiting (Joy To The World) // Matt Redman

A King Like This // Chris Tomlin

O Holy Night (O Night Divine) // Rend Collective

We Have Come // United Pursuit

 

http://www.worshiptogether.com/blog/advent-2016/

Image from https://au.pinterest.com/explore/sheet-music-crafts/

Laying aside my taste in music

bird tree musicSharing some challenging thoughts today from Nick Morrow’s blog, about leading songs in church which we don’t necessarily like! In fact we might not like them at all. He suggests that such a situation is a great opportunity to examine our egos (which we should check in at the church door) and our servant heart – do we have one?  Other great points include the fact that everyone’s different musical tastes and opinions are equally valid (can you believe it?) and the importance of not expecting the church worship band to be the outlet for all your creative outpouring. I’m sure you’ll find it worth a read!

CONFESSIONS OF A CHRISTIAN MUSIC SNOB (AND MY SIX STEPS TO REHAB)

“Confession: Of all the songs we sing at my church, I like about five of them.

Meaning, actually like them. Meaning, they’re songs I might listen to outside the four walls of my church. . . . There still exists an uncomfortable tension between my artistic tastes and most of the worship music I hear. I want to offer my musical abilities to serve the church, but I also want to be honest. It’s not that I have anything against worship bands. And it’s definitely not that the lyrics are bad. It’s just a matter of opinion.

It’s not about maintaining “artistic integrity” or musical street cred. We all have to check that ego at the door when we come to church. It’s about trying to figure out how to play and lead songs I may not like and still be completely genuine.
At some point every worship leader is going to get asked to sing a song they hate in church. The way that we respond to these requests speaks volumes about our views on servanthood. It’s been a long road for me in releasing my musical pride and embracing worship music. Here are a few steps I found helpful:

1. Realize that your opinions are just that: opinions. Your musical tastes are 100% opinion. No amount of graphs and flowcharts and albums sales will “prove” that your taste is better than anyone else’s. Believe me, I’ve tried. I learned the hard way that my musical tastes are not sovereign. Musical tastes are kind of like taste buds. They can be developed and stretched over time to appreciate more complex things. But the snob who looks down on people with different or less-developed tastes isn’t impressive. He’s just a jerk.

2. Know that your opinions are valid…and so are everyone else’s. I have to catch myself on this a lot. I try to replace phrases like “They’re the best band ever” with phrases like “they’re one of my favorites.” I know the semantics probably don’t matter in most conversations, but it keeps my music-critic ego from swelling up and entering a parallel universe where my musical opinions are absolute truths. Understanding exactly why someone loves polka or nu-metal or funk-tron-burgercore probably isn’t very important. But respecting the fact that they’re entitled to that opinion is. All our tastes are subjective, and that’s okay.

3. Be honest. The world (and the church) doesn’t benefit from your silence about the creative process. If you want to offer alternative opinions, start with humility and be honest. If something sounds cheesy, it’s okay to say it, just be kind and diplomatic about how you communicate that. Remember never to challenge people, but to focus on the group’s creative goals and helping achieve them.

4. Be pragmatic. Remember that music is all about context. You might crank out some Bruce Springsteen while driving on the highway with the windows down, but you’ll likely turn to a very different genre to lull you to sleep. Worship music is the same. Respect the fact that while youjohn-coltrane may not have any worship music on your “all time favorites” playlist, Beatles and John Coltrane songs don’t make for very good worship tunes.

5. Resolve to submit to church authority on matters of opinion. Don’t ever give your church leadership a chance to question your loyalty to the church. If you’re serving with a large “platform” like worship leading, submission should be foundational anyway. Musicians are known for rebellious attitudes, and I’ve even seen it happen in the church before. Don’t be the rebellious punk rock guy that always quotes the Scripture about Jesus flipping over tables. That may score you “cool” points with scenesters, but not in the Kingdom of God.

6. Use your unique voice to bless the church and further the Kingdom. Every worship musician offers something unique to their church. Find out what your musical offering is, and give it gladly. Don’t worry about whether people “get” what you’re trying to do artistically. There is a place for raw art and creativity, but it’s probably not your local church. You may have a deeper desire to serve the church through your creativity. Your local church may not recognize or need that. Don’t freak out. It’s okay to write, create, and serve outside of your local church. The advent of the Internet makes that easier than ever.
Leading worship in church may not satisfy all of your creative longings. That’s okay. Worship music is about glorifying Jesus and serving your church. “Serving your own agenda” is never part of the deal. The more we realize that, the more we’ll be able to serve with joy and clarity.
Are you willing to sacrifice your artistic tastes for the church? Even if you aren’t getting paid for it? What do you do when you don’t like a song you’re asked to sing in church? I’m convinced that the answers speak to our integrity and willingness to serve. It may not always be easy, but it’s totally possible to serve the church with your musical talents, even when you don’t like the music.

You may also like:
C.S. Lewis on musical taste and grace                    Oh for a humble attitude to church
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