Sunday 2nd November 9am Worship
Sermon Series: Advent Conspiracy
Title: Worship Fully
Bible Reading: Luke 1:5-22
Preacher: Phil Swain
Last I stumbled upon an Ikea TV ad from Spain which had a brilliant message. I would show it to you except that it is in Spanish and the subtitles are small – so I will explain it instead. They had a group of 10 families – the took aside the kids whom they gave a piece of paper to and asked them to write a letter to Santa about what they wanted as a present from Santa this Christmas. The kids wrote things like a bike, guitar, Nintendo Wii, lots of different stuff. One kid had a catalogue and was pointing – I want that, that, that, that!
Then the kids were asked to write a letter to their parents about what they wanted as a present this Christmas from their Mum and Dad. Do you know what they wrote? They wrote things like “To read a book to me” “To play soccer together” “For dad to have dinner with us more often” “To spend a whole day together”. They showed both letters to the parents – who of course teared up reading them. One parent said, “We give them so much stuff and forget what they also want”.
It’s a great ad – if you put aside the irony that it was made by IKEA who wants to sell us lots of stuff. The ad resonates with us because we all feel this tension at Christmas.
On one hand the world is shouting out a story – a Christmas Narrative that says that if you love someone you need to show them how much you love them by buying lots of stuff. And so we spend, spend, spend – over a trillion dollars last year was spent in western countries for Christmas. The story of Santa is about a kind man who brings us – stuff. The kids in the TV knew the story. You ask Santa for toys and games and stuff because that’s all Santa can bring. Santa can’t play soccer with you or have dinner with you. Santa only bring you toys. And so, buy, buy, buy is the world’s narrative of Christmas. Show your love through presents. Whether it is presents or food or expensive holidays … the world tells us we need more, more, more. It is so clearly proclaimed through the media year after year. And yet, many of us long for another story. There must be a better narrative for Christmas. In our hearts we know that the mindless consuming is not a Christian way to celebrate the birth of Jesus our saviour. There must be another narrative.
And there is. There is a second narrative – one that comes from the Biblical story. A narrative of Christmas which is meaningful, full of hope and joy and brings peace and life and love. We believe that this story is not only positive and good – that this story can change the world. And so we are joining a conspiracy. Not in terms of a conspiracy theory but rather we conspire to join with other Christian around the world in calling the world’s Christmas narrative “Fake News” and instead proclaim the good news of Jesus By embracing the four aspects of Advent Conspiracy … worship fully, spend less, give more and love all – it is my hope that we might the world a fuller, richer way to celebrate the joy of Christmas.
Are you ready to be part of this Advent Conspiracy? Let’s jump right in with the first element – WORSHIP FULLY.
Secular historians concede that the birth of Jesus was one of the top world-changing events. The irony was that at the time, nearly the whole world missed it. At the time, less than 100 people even had an idea that the saviour of the world had been born – everyone else missed it completely. I wonder if we are any different. Have you ever had one of those preparations for Christmas where you are just running around non-stop? There are presents to buy, food to prepare, plans to be made, the house to be cleaned, Christmas parties to attend – not to mention the end of year presentations, Christmas Eve Workshop … the list goes on.
Do you know what I am talking about? Our great quest to celebrate the mystery of the birth of Jesus exhausts us. I confess that sometimes I just long for Boxing Day and for it all to be over. And before we know it – it is over … and we have barely had a moment to reflect on the awe-inducing, soul-satisfying mystery of the incarnation – that God is with us, that God has come to us.
Have we completely missed the whole point of Christmas?
When do we draw near to the manger and worship Christ the Lord?
Worship should be at the heart of our Christmas experience – because it was at the heart of the experience of every character in the Biblical Christmas story. I know you know the Christmas story so well – but let’s go over it again and see how much of the Christmas story is about worship.
Our bible reading for today starts with Elizabeth and Zachariah. Liz and Zac were elderly and had not been able to conceive a child. The story starts where? In the temple – actually in the Holy of Holies … the most sacred part of the temple. And what was Zachariah doing? Lighting the increase as a way of worshipping God. The Christmas story literally starts with worship. And it was in this time of worship that Zachariah has his experience with an angel and receives his good news that he and Elizabeth will have a child and he is to name him John. What is Elizabeth’s response to getting pregnant? It was just after our bible reading ended in verse 25 … but she praised God for what God had done for her.
We can step through all the characters. What was Mary’s response to her news about her miraculous pregnancy and being the mother of the saviour? (Well, after the bit when she questions, “How can this be”) … Mary broke into song – the magnificant – her song of praise and worship to God. When Mary and Elizabeth met up – Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and praised God. Even John in her womb leaped for joy.
The Angels sharing the good news with the shepherds broke into a worship song “Glory to God in the highest heaven”. Luke 2:20 tells us that after they had seen the baby Jesus, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
When King Herod was talking to the magi, what was the reason that he gave for wanting to know the location of Jesus? Matthew 2:8, “As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” And lastly, what was the first thing the magi do when they entered the house and saw Jesus – Matthew 2:11, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him”.
Even Joseph – whom the bible does not explicitly say worshipped God – showed obedience to God, which is an act of worship. Every major character in the Christmas story had WORSHIP as part of their Christmas experience. Therefore, it stands to reason that we too should have worship at the heart of our Christmas experience too.
So how do we do this? How can we make sure that worshipping is not just one more thing that we squeeze into an already packed December but rather is at the heart of our Christmas experience this year?
I would like to offer a few suggestions that might help.
- Our Sunday worship services are going to be all about pushing back against the world Christmas narrative and instead but Jesus at the centre of Christmas … so attending each Sunday in advent will be helpful.
- Lessons & Carols (16th) and Community Carols (9th) … special times of worship to focus on Jesus.
- Blue Christmas Service (18th) at St Andrews. A time for quiet reflection and worship for those whom Christmas is difficult.
- Advent daily reflections. On Facebook but also can do printed copies if you like
- Spotify play list???
- Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – full of life and energy and joy … but also have been working with the teams to make sure the true message of Christmas is clearly communicated and that worship the heart of those two services.
So … as followers of Jesus our options are clear. We are called to conspire against the worldly worship the king of consumerism and instead show the world another side of Christmas worship. Let us break into song like Mary and declare the greatness of our Lord, let us have times of silence like Zachariah and reflect on what God is doing in our lives, let us jump for joy like Elizabeth and baby John when we hear the good news of Christmas, let us worship with our obedience like Joseph, let us be like the shepherd glorifying and praising God wherever we are, and let us find time to be like the magi, and draw close the manger – to come and adore him, Christ the Lord.
Oh, there was one more part of the IKEA ad at the beginning that I didn’t share with you. Do you remember the illustration? The kids writing a wish-list to Santa which were all lists of toys and stuff – and writing a wish-list to their parents which instead was full of things like reading to them or spending time or being around at dinner. At the end of the ad, the producer asks the kids … if they could only give one letter – to either Santa or their parents – which one would they want to give. One kid said, “that is a hard one”. It is a hard one, because presents aren’t bad. We don’t have to completely shun giving presents just because Christmas consumerism has gone mad. Kids still like toys. But in the ad, the producers asked them to choose. Do you know what they chose? Every kid chose the parents.
The world is longing for a different Christmas story. One to sit beside the worldly consumerism Christmas. The world is longing for a Christmas story that is meaningful and brings hope and peace and joy and love. They really are looking for it.
This Christmas, let us help them find Jesus.