Reflections on Worship and Some Implications for Christmas

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Today’s blog is a continuation from Wednesday and begins with the question that ended yesterday’s entry; What kinds of experiences, common to us all, come to expression in the language and action of worship? Here are a few things to consider.

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First, the language and action of worship confront us with the common experience that we are not self-caused or self-perpetuating. Every person is thrust into the world with no say in the matter. Our place of origin, parents, physical characteristics, and so forth, are out of our control. The basic questions of our ultimate origin – and therefore our ultimate goal – remain unanswered. To worship is to respond to these questions.

To be born into pre-existing structures of choice means we must choose, and those choices result in the shaping of our lives, relationships and the world. We have no choice when it comes to choice.This means that worship is going on all the time for every person, every day, in every moment as we entrust ourselves to the little gods, the little stories, the redemptive projects of our own making in the effort to justify our choices and, therefore, our presence in the world. 

Second, the language and action of worship confront us with these tendencies to self-validation, to idolatry, to bad worship and the harm it does. If it does not, worship ceases to be Christian in any meaningful sense and the false gods of self-affirmation we bring with us in the door every Sunday actually are the object of our worship. Every gathering of Christian worship, therefore, confronts each person and the community with the consequences of bad choices, bad worship, so that a story large enough to encompass all our stories may inform and redeem us, turning us from bad worshipers to worshipers of the Living God. This is what the confession and absolution, the proclamation of law and gospel intend to accomplish. In worship we are graciously brought to confess our need for a savior and we are given the Savior we need.  

Since we are approaching Christmas, a few words regarding how this may apply to Christmas worship may be illustrative. Whatever else the Christmas observance may be about, the Scriptures make it clear that what we are seeing here is God’s invasion of hostile territory. The angels anticipate this in their invitation to drop fear as God comes near. They know who they are dealing with. Fear, anxiety over the threats inherent in life, is the atmosphere in which we live. The appearance of the new, the strange, the unknown is the occasion for fear and suspicion, not automatic joy, because we are by nature frightened and suspicious, uncertain about ourselves and our place in the world.

Christmas worship, therefore, must avoid the trap of falling into the false comfort of feel-good sentimentality. Pretty lights and pretty songs do not Christmas make. For “good news of great joy” has come to us, it does not originate with us. And that good news is that a Savior has been given to us, we who actually live as if we have no need of one. 

So the language of choice that is central in Christian worship is the language of God’s choosing to be with sinners, the lost, frightened, anxious ones. This is the great joy of Christmas. “For born to you this day…is a Savior…”. Jesus integrates the frightened human story with the grace, love and mercy of the Father. He gives meaning, in every sense, to our lives, and inhabits our lives in such a way that we no longer need fear the consequences of our choices. Because God is for us, we are free to live joyfully, expectantly in the fearlessness of faith.

Christmas is a good time to sugar coat plumbs and cookies but not Christian worship.The job of Christian worship at all times and seasons is to hit the high notes of our great joy in Jesus Christ without muting the low notes that sound the mournful sobriety of our great need.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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