The Missing Ingredient
Our hearts are formed by what we worship. Excitement, anticipation, hope — each of these emotions swells around the object of our dearest affection. We spend our time and energy on what matters most to us.
What do we worship during Advent?
“Jesus” is the right answer, of course, but is it the true answer? Does the way we spend our time, money, and energy testify that we worship God incarnate? Season after season, many churchgoers have learned to say the right things without allowing their words to reach their hearts. Simply saying that Jesus is the desire of our hearts doesn’t make it so. In fact, proper, expected words can sometimes hinder true worship by keeping our lips and hearts apart.
Looking honestly at the desires of our hearts is scarier than simply saying what people expect or demand. Kids don’t suffer from this fear. Ask a child what she is excited about at Christmas, and it’s doubtful she’ll exclaim with passion, “Jesus’ birthday!” Before she’s been indoctrinated with the proper religious mantra, she’ll tell you about that shiny blue bike that she can’t wait to ride on Christmas morning.
The things we desire are the things we worship. During Advent — a time of conspicuous consumption—we need to look closely at what we want and desire. Let’s think beyond the well-rehearsed responses and strive to discover what is really in our hearts.
We spend hundreds of billions of dollars during the holiday season, hoping — whether we admit it to ourselves or not — that the latest and greatest gift will fulfill us and those we give gifts to. This (we think) will bring us joy. This will make our Christmas memorable. We sprint through store after store or, these days, scroll through page after page on Amazon, trying to find the perfect gift to express our love because we crave to be loved in return. We long for peace in place of the annual holiday family soap opera. We shop till we drop so we can finally rest. We go into debt and assume we’re entitled to whatever we want.
We sit in church drained and exhausted — but still restless because we’re too far from the stable to see much of anything.
The heart of what we’re truly searching for — hope, peace, love, rest, worship — is buried in the seasonal chaos. Each step we take toward an overstuffed schedule and an overextended budget is one step further away from the nativity.
The time of year when focusing on Christ should be the easiest is often the hardest.
The invitation to join the Advent Conspiracy is a call to remain at the side of the baby Jesus and worship Him — no matter how strongly the cultural demands of Christmas pull at us.
The transformation initiated by Jesus is no different today than it was the day He was born — the source of joy, peace, and hope hasn’t changed.
What if we could enter the story of Christ’s coming in a fresh way? Read this father’s account of how his young son began to experience the birth of Jesus in a service at Ecclesia:
My family had been talking about the birth of Christ and what it meant that God gave Himself to be with us. I could see my children processing, but I didn’t know if it was really connecting. But during an Advent worship service, my son brought his allowance savings without telling me. As our sanctuary filled with voices celebrating the birth of Christ, we went forward to the communion table. Looking down at my son, I saw him put something like $40 into the offering for kids around the world. When I asked him about it later, he said he wanted to give like God had given to us.
Each year Advent brings another opportunity to worship the miracle of the Incarnation when God revealed Himself to people in a new way. Nearly every character who encounters the infant King in the Advent story has the same response: worship. Their worship sprang from deep places of the heart that were touched for the first time by God-in-the-flesh. Such worship challenges old beliefs about God and what it means to be present with Him.
The Invitation: Mary
Mary was a teenage girl engaged to marry a poor carpenter named Joseph. She lived on a dusty fringe of the mighty Roman Empire, just another powerless peasant in another backwater town. Yet she was the woman to whom God extended the invitation to be the mother of the Messiah Jesus.
In Luke’s account, Gabriel, God’s archangel, announces to Mary that she has found favor with God — she will give birth to a child, and she will name him Jesus. Mary’s response —
Here I am, the Lord’s humble servant. As you have said, let it be done to me”1
—is as simple as it is inspiring. She doesn’t protest or let her fear sway her from following God.
Mary joins the rich tradition of Jewish poets and prophets as she composes a song of devotion to her Lord:
My soul lifts up the Lord! My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
For though I’m God’s humble servant, God has noticed me.
Now and forever, I will be considered blessed by all generations.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me; holy is God’s name!
From generation to generation, God’s lovingkindness endures for those who revere Him.
God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray. The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low. And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity. The hungry — God has filled with fine food.
The rich — God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
To Israel, God’s servant, God has given help,
As promised to our ancestors, remembering Abraham and his
descendants in mercy forever.2
Mary’s song is known as the Magnificat because she magnifies God, pointing to Him as she worships and confesses His great love for and future deliverance of the oppressed.
We are not the humble lifted by God of whom Mary sings. We are the powerful, the rich, the self-absorbed. Hundreds of millions of people throughout the world live without clean water, housing, food, and education. These are the humble and hungry to whom Mary promises deliverance. Through her son, the Messiah, tyrants will be defeated and the oppressed will be liberated and ushered into a kingdom that will have no end.
Mary announces that God is here! She carries Him in her womb. The mystery of the moment is mind-bending. This Liberating King is nothing less than her son and her God. Mary’s worship begins with the ultimate paradox: a young girl, unwed and without power, influence, or wealth, cradles within her womb the divine power of the universe. The Creator who spoke creation into place is taking on fingers and toes inside her belly, and the One who holds all wealth of the universe will soon nurse at her breast. Jesus is a fetus inside the worshiping Mary, who recognizes through grace that this great God is doing a great thing for all people!
How can we join Mary’s Magnificat?
Is the warm feeling we get when we sing “Silent Night” fitting worship for our King? Of course. But perhaps Advent can elicit even more than warm emotions. What do we owe a God who entered our world to bring justice to His children? With Mary as our model, let poets pen odes, musicians compose songs, and prophets stand and call us to see what God sees: the birth of His Son signifies the beginning of the end of injustice.
Let our worship be an outpouring of our hearts. Let us take God’s self-revelation seriously as we begin to desire the same things that move His perfect heart. Let our worship drive us from the enclosure of church walls and out into painful places that cry out for God’s liberation. Author Mark Labberton puts it this way:
This disparity between economics and justice is an issue of worship. According to the narrative of Scripture, the very heart of how we show and distinguish true worship from false worship is apparent in how we respond to the poor, the oppressed, the neglected, and the forgotten. As of now, I do not see this theme troubling the waters of worship in the American church. But justice and mercy are not add-ons to worship, nor are they the consequences of worship. Jesus and mercy are intrinsic to God and therefore intrinsic to the worship of God.3
- Luke 1:38.
- Luke 1:46-55.
- Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007), 37-38.
Excerpted with permission from Advent Conspiracy by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder, copyright Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder.
* * *
Thanksgiving leftovers are packed up in the fridge waiting to be made into sandwiches and turkey tetrazzini. There’s still a few slices of pie set aside for breakfast and so many memories stored away of times and people we are thankful for. Now, Advent is right around the corner. It’s time to turn our hearts to the Christ Child and the miracle of His birth… and worship! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily