Summary: First Sunday of Advent in this series: Anticipation and expectation for a wonderful & worshipful Christmas sets the stage for a different type of season.
John Calvin, the Reformer most responsible for what we know as Presbyterianism, disliked statues, artwork, icons and the like which were used in Catholic worship in the 1500’s. He had good reason; for the depictions, relics and the like worship they themselves had become objects of worship. Yet, in defense of our Catholic sisters and brothers, in a culture where no one read it was one way to tell the story of Christ to the people.
I know where Calvin is coming from. Which of us have not seen a music video of some sort? In the 80’s a youth newsletter I received told us of the power of this new medium. The writer said he’d just seen a remake of The Supremes "Stop in the Name of Love" done by The Hollies. He then said he’d never hear that song the same way again because Paul Flattery had turned it into an anti-nuclear war statement. It is powerful. One song, one video, changes the way one person perceives the world. That is power.
Still don’t believe me? Consider the raw emotions in Eugene over a noose left hanging at a frat house. Consider the response of a over from holocaust survivor to a skinhead with a swastika armband.
I know where Calvin is coming from but I don’t believe him. Scripture is full of reminders of God’s love and provision so we don’t suffer spiritual amnesia. Rainbows aren’t just refracted light, they are a promise given by God that the world will never again be wiped out by flood. Unleavened bread and roasted lamb, reminds us of the exodus God gave his people. A pile of stones in the midst of the Jordan River served as a reminder of God’s providing a dry passage into the land promised to Israel.
Today a cross, a basin and town, broken bread and a cup of wine are still used to help us understand, grasp and respond to the love of our Heavenly Father through Jesus. Hebrews 9 is a short primer on the intricacy of the "tent" which was the place of worship for Israel while in the desert. Exodus 25-31 gives a very detailed account. I’m sort of surprised it doesn’t include renderings of what God expected it to look like. Yet, for all its beauty, and artistic detail it was transitory. It was a sign, like the temple which followed, that pointed to Jesus. He is the light of the world and the true bread send down from heaven.
Here’s why this is important today. I want us to be focused on Jesus during this coming Christmas season. I resurrected this series of themes from seven years ago because I believe they can help us take a fresh look at our celebration and make sure we’re on target.
Many of us are going to begin the process of decorating for Christmas. I want us to do some serious thinking about why and how we do that this year. Others of you no longer put up a tree, lights or decorations. It’s become too hard; others believe that decorating is giving into the commercialization of the season. I want you to redecorate your house again, for a different reason. Jack Hayford writes in Come and Adore Him, "Decoration of the house at Christmas is neither a surrender to pagan tradition or a capitulation to commercialism. Listen, if God commissioned angels to roll back the night and fill it with blazing light, if God provided a mighty celestial choir to serenade a few startled shepherds, if God graced the heavens with a miracle star, if God arranged such a memorable entry point as a feeding trough in a stable, if God went to all this trouble to open our eyes to His entry into our world, then we needn’t apologize for festooning our homes with a few seasonal reminders."
Our culture today is much more anti-Christmas than it was in 2000 when we looked at these passages the first time. We have holiday trees, seasonal music, winter breaks, and those pushing the limits of getting rid of anything that ties Christ into Christmas. Emmanuel, God with-with-us doesn’t’ sell. Today, I want to urge each of us to do a couple of things. First, take back Christmas from the world. Don’t be afraid of decorating. Put up an evergreen because it’s a symbol of the eternal life Jesus gives. Let candles and lights shine out from windows and eves because Jesus is the "light of the world". Celebrate gifting others because God gave us the greatest gift ever. Let gold, red, purple, nativity scenes and carols ring out in our lives this season because they point to a God who loves us.
Second, when you decorate do it with a sense of worship and anticipation. Dedicate your time of preparation to the Lord, Crank up your Christmas music so that you can’t hear the phone if it rings and sing along with the carols as you decorate. Look for Christ’s presence in each room as you take the time to prepare them for the season and for God’s blessing.