Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why do we miss the benefit of praising God during Advent (and beyond)?

Hand it to Linus-he understood the true meaning of Christmas

I'm preaching five sermons during Advent that seek to draw our attention to some of the special callings of the season. These are callings that pertain year round for sure, but Advent and Christmas tend to evoke an openness to thinking about God's work of redemption in light of the hymns, readings, sermons, and gatherings we have. Indeed, for most Christians, Advent is a special time of the year. My sermons are focusing on this special time by suggesting five actions to exercise during Advent and Christmas. Here are the titles:

Advent is a time to Ponder
Advent is a time to Praise
Advent is a time to Party
Advent is a time to Plan
Advent is a time to Proclaim.

Tomorrow, in light of the various passages that show the spontaneous praise the birth of Christ brought. I'll attempt to show how praising God is not only our response to God's works of creation and redemption, but also what we were designed for. We are made to worship God. When we are not worshiping God or are otherwise distracted from giving praise to God, our lives will reflect an unrest and discontentment, at the very least. In short, praising and worshiping God brings Him glory, but it also brings us peace and contentment doing what we are created to do. Praising God is actually a huge benefit to us.

I have been thinking about the reasons we miss the benefit of praising God even during a season when it seems so much is geared toward outward acts of worshipping God. There might be a distraction that is pulling you away from praising God for sending Christ. To assist in praising God, here are a few possible distractions that might be hindering you right now:

A strained or broken relationship is causing unrest and unsettledness that distracts you from focusing on Christ and His gift in coming for you. If it's with your spouse or child, it's almost an all-consuming burden. If it's with a more distant relative, friend, or co-worker, whenever there's a lull in activity, your mind fixates on that damaged relationship.

An uncertain job situation is stressing you out. The economy and sense of widespread societal anxiety is in the forefront of your mind because week to week you’re not sure if you’ll keep your job. You’re stressed to a point of having difficulty thinking of God and what He has done and is doing for you.

A financial burden that consumes you and makes you anxious. A time where money has to be spent for gifts and various appeals for money in the form of offerings or bell ringers makes it tough for you to think of God’s supreme gift when you’re worried about your provisions.

A health issue has you occupied, maybe even scared. Perhaps a medical test looms and your fearful of what it will reveal. Maybe you’re in great pain and discomfort and it’s difficult to concentrate on what I’m saying let alone praise God for sending Christ to save us. Physical discomfort seems to dominate you.

A child is not walking with Christ so it makes it hard for you to think about the depth of God's love that would prompt Him to send Christ for you. You love Jesus and want your kids to love Jesus- the fact that one of them doesn’t trust Christ causes a conflict in your celebration.

Maybe, to be very frank, you're so enthralled with your children and their life and activities, that you don't have time to make a special effort to slow down and ponder all the incarnation of Jesus means. This child worship is ever present throughout the year, but all sorts of added activities during the holidays puts the squeeze on your child centered devotion and you never get to put your eyes on Christ. You're simply too busy watching and catering to junior to praise God for redemption and all his many graces to you. Oh, you're worshiping during Advent alright...just not Jesus.

Something at work or school is sucking the energy out of you. A big project is taking your spare time. A paper is due that demands a huge amount of your energy. You’re gaze is on the project or assignment- on making the grade before the deadline or semester’s end. "I’ll enjoy Christmas when this task or that assignment is done", you might think.

Maybe you’re so busy getting ready to travel, buying gifts, planning activities, going to Christmas parties, all the while maintaining your usual busy schedule, that you don’t have time to contemplate praising God for sending Christ. You’re so busy celebrating "Christmas time", that you don’t have the opportunity to actually experience what the coming of Christ means and provides.


pjw said...

Wow! Now I know why I've had such a wobbly week! Out of those 7 points, 5 of them apply to me! I thought I was going into Advent with the right attitude, but I see that there are some things lurking under the surface (until now) that were keeping me from the total joy I want to feel at this time. Think I have some pondering to do tonight!

jeff said...

Right on the money.

As a music teacher, choir director, and performer, Christmas can be the busiest time of year for me. About 6 years ago, there was one particular Advent season where I had something like 7 or 8 concerts to either sing in or conduct in the 3 weeks leading into Christmas. I actually said to my wife, "I can't wait until Christmas is over". As soon as what I said sank in, I realized that my focus had totally changed in the wrong direction. The following year, I learned to say "No" to musical endeavors that weren't necessary for me to participate in. It was amazing what a difference it made to be more focused on the reason why we celebrate, instead of the things we do to celebrate.
Don't get me wrong, it's GREAT to celebrate, but when the celebration overshadows the reason for celebrating, we've gone wrong.

Woody Woodward said...

The point you made that jumped out at me is the continual concept of “spontaneous praise”. Giving praise to the Lord in all situations brings glory to the Lord Jesus. In prison last night we talked about overcoming and conquering, extinguishing the fiery darts the evil one throws at us through praise and worship. It was interesting several of the men said they give praise to the Lord for being in prison. For in this place, they have been transformed by the renewing of their minds by the Word of God. Giving praise to the Lord for being in prison reminds me that the Word of God promises, “for that witch I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal, but the Word of God is not imprisoned!” (II Tim 2:7)

Jim said...

Good post. Two thoughts.

First, was it G.K. Chesterton who said something like this: The worst part about the not believing is not that you don't have someone to call out to when things go wrong, but that you doesn't have someone to thank when things go right. (Or something like that.)

Secondly, the first act of worship is not giving gifts to God, but rather receiving the gifts (or perhaps better, the Gift) that God provides to us.