O Come All Ye Faithful
Trista and I were in the midst of Christmas Shopping, and let me just go ahead and confess that I actually enjoy shopping at this time of the year. I enjoy the crowds, and I enjoy the frantic nature of what is going on. I am out on Black Friday and Christmas Eve. Even when I have bought everything on my gift lists I still want to get out in the crowds and watch people and feel the energy. But what I enjoy the most is that every now and again something will catch you by surprise.
A few years ago Trista and I were walking through the crowds at the Parkdale Mall in Beaumont, Texas. I heard the voice before I actually saw where it was coming from. But there across the way I spied this little boy, he was probably 5 years old, dragging his mom through the mall saying at the top of his voice, let’s go, let’s go! I don’t want to miss him. He was pulling his mom with one hand and had a piece of paper in the other hand. I instantly knew where that little boy was going, everyone within ear shot knew where he was headed. It was December, and Santa Claus was sitting right beside the food court. That little boy was insistent that this was his chance, and he was in a hurry to get there.
There is something magical about getting to talk with Santa Claus, it was important for me when I was a little boy, it was important for the little boys who grew up in our home, and you could tell how important it was for this little one. I wanted to see what happened, so I changed my direction so that I could watch the magic unfold.
But that little boy wasn’t the only one in the mall that day. There were others, some of the people who were in the mall were so interested in making sure they got everything on their list they didn’t pay much attention to the large man dressed in red sitting in the middle of the mall. They had their heads down and just walked right by him without even giving him a glance. Others would walk up to the little fence that made the boundary around Santa’s area and they just looked. They would turn and talk to one another about his coat, or his beard, or how his belly really did shake like a bowl of jelly. But they watched from the edges, getting information and making comments. Then there was that little boy who finally got to the area where Santa Claus was sitting. It is always magical when Santa turns to a child and motions for them to come and sit on his lap. This little boy was instantly star struck. He could not believe that the one he so desperately wanted to see had invited him to come.
This month we are looking at the songs that shape our holiday season. Our Christmas Hymn this morning is essentially a musical Christmas card, inviting us to the party at the manger! Not once, not twice, but three times in the opening verse alone, we are invited to come to Bethlehem. As the verses continue on, we find the star running ahead of us, pulling us like a little boy pulling his mom through the mall shouting come on guys, you gotta’ see this!
While it is impossible for us to actually travel back in time to visit Jesus in the manger. I believe that every time when we gather as a church family, we are coming to Bethlehem in a sense. We are being called by God to come and adore Christ. We are being called to worship God through retelling and remembering the story of salvation. We are called to gather together and adore the infant king, who grew up and walked the earth, suffered an inhumane death on a cross, and was raised from the dead on Easter.
Once again this morning we are hearing the call to gather, to come and adore the one who is the King of Angels. But can we take a moment of honest reflection. Because not all of us will actually answer the call. As a matter fo fact there some here this morning and in our community that hear the call to come, let us ignore Him.
Very often I hear people talk about the good old days, the days when time seemed to pass slower and life was less hectic. And I get that, very often it seems like there is so much to do, so many things to get done, so many tasks to check off my to do list that I am like those folks walking through the mall without taking time to notice that Santa Claus is sitting right there. Even in the times that I have the chance to gather with you and worship, there are times when it seems that we are just checking things off the list so we can get to the next thing. Sing, check. Pray, check. Take communion, check.
The last thing I want to do is to make you feel guilty because you have a busy schedule filled with holiday events, preparations, and shopping. I understand what it feels like to wake up on the couch or in the recliner because you are just exhausted. But I need to throw out a word of caution here, because sometimes we can get so focused on doing good things that we forget to do the better things.
I want you to think about your teenage child or grandchild who walks into a room wearing headphones. What happens if you call their name? More often than not they can’t hear you because their music is blocking out the other things that are going on around them. The same is true for so many of us. We get so busy doing significant things that we miss out on the most important thing. My grandfather would tell me, If the devil cannot make you bad, he will make you busy. He was and is right.
Do you remember the time that Jesus was invited to Martha’s home? The story is found in Luke 10: Jesus came to another village and Martha, a resident of that village, welcomed Jesus into her home. Her sister, Mary, went and sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach. Meanwhile Martha was anxious about all the hospitality arrangements.
Martha (interrupting Jesus): Lord, why don’t You care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to get over here and help me.
Jesus replied: Oh Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her. (38-42)
Martha was doing something important. She was making sure that the food was ready, that there would be a place at the table for everyone. She made sure the house was clean, that there were enough plates, enough clean cups. And she was distracted by all of the preparation. What made it worse was that Mary wasn’t helping her get all of this important stuff done. As a matter of fact Mary was just sitting in the other room listening to Jesus. So Martha complained, and Jesus reminded her that there is good things to do, and better things to do. Martha had come and ignored Jesus while Mary made a better choice.
We have often made the same choices. We expend an awful lot of our energy on things that don't help us grow in our spiritual lives. There are times that we make the choice to stay home from worshiping or fellowship opportunities because we are just so busy with work, or things have to get done around the house. And while that might seem like a little thing on the surface, it’s just another example of how we ignore Jesus. Far to many times I have found myself guilty of being so hurried and busy like Martha, that I miss my greatest blessing on the way to my biggest distraction.
There are some events that require your absence and others that require your presence. There are some family functions you cannot afford to miss and others where you might need to observe the passover. Not even Jesus showed up at every wedding or healed people in every town. He told His disciples to go to some places to do ministry and told them to avoid going to other places. We have always struggled with doing a good thing and ignoring doing the better thing.
If we are going to actually adore Jesus we have to be honest with our time. By the time you fall, exhausted, into bed at night, have you spent more than five minutes communicating with God that day? Have you spent time in His word? Have you meditated on what you read? We must make sure that we don’t get so caught up in the holidays, that we barely take time to acknowledge Him.
Next there are those in our communities that hear the invitation to come and explore Him.
If you remember our story about the little boy in the mall there were some people who had gathered around the edges and were happy to just look and observe from a distance. There are people who have been a member of a church for decades and the only thing they have gained is information about Jesus. There are a lot of people who know the facts about His life. They have heard stories told by their parents and preachers. Even when Jesus walked the earth there were people from His home town who knew about Jesus. They knew who His parents were. They had heard stories about His teaching and the miracles He performed. But they didn’t really know Him.
Some of the saddest words Jesus ever spoke are found in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Simply calling Me “Lord” will not be enough. Only those who do the will of My Father who is in heaven will join Me in heaven. At the end of time, on that day of judgment, many will say to Me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name? Did we not drive demons out of the possessed in Your name? Did we not perform miracles in Your name?” But I will say to them, “I never knew you. And now, you must get away from Me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Our community is filled with people who know about Jesus. They might even attend services three times a week; but all they have acquired is some facts about Him. They might have even done some acts of compassion and memorized a few Bible verses. But they have never allowed the facts to become their personal reality. They hold knowledge in their heads without allowing the truth to penetrate their hearts. In the text these are the people who have called Jesus Lord, and even prophesy and performed miracles. But their heart was far from God because they thought they could fake it until it felt real.
Just knowing the facts about Jesus will never change our behavior or help us have a Godly attitude. Just knowing a bunch of facts about Jesus will never lead me to feel remorse about my brokenness and sin so that I will turn to Jesus for His mercy and grace. Just following the story will never lead me to trust Him as my Savior. And it certainly won’t get me to heaven, because knowing about Jesus isn’t the same thing as knowing Jesus.
Knowing Jesus means taking to heart what He says about my sins. Knowing Jesus means there’s nothing I can do to make this relationship work, but I trust that He makes it all possible. Knowing Jesus means experiencing His love and forgiveness. Knowing Jesus means walking with Him through the darkest days of my life. Knowing Jesus means a relationship that never ends, no matter how bad the news is. Knowing Jesus means that I am actually attempting to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We were never called to come and explore Him, we were called to come and adore Him.
The invitation of our Christmas Hymn has three goals: We are to Adore Him, then we can Adore Him, and finally we are in a position to Adore Him. But what does it mean to Adore Him? Adoration is not about singing, taking communion, praying, going to church or anything that you would consider worship. Adoration is centered on forming and nurturing an internal relationship with God. Thomas a’ Kempis in his book, The Imitation of Christ, wrote: “If we let our progress in religious life depend on the observance of externals alone, our dedication will quickly come to an end.”
Adoration, on the other hand, lasts because it is purely internal. It is sitting alone in God’s presence adoring Him. It is the difference between doing something and knowing someone. History is filled with people who gathered knowledge about Jesus, did a lot of great works in His name, and they will still hear Jesus say, I never knew you.
I believe it’s a fair question to ask how do we get from knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. Because unfortunately, many of us have been sold this idea that knowing about Jesus is just as good as knowing Jesus. But we are called to wade deeper into our love for Him.
Far too many Christians are trying to adore God by simply doing the things that look like what they think a child of God would do. We are a member of a church family, we attend services, we go to Bible Studies, we spend our time and energy doing and saying religious things, but we have no affection for God. We can sing about adoring God, talk about adoring God, and never really adore God. We have been convinced that we are supposed to fake it until we make it. The problem is that we live our whole lives faking it, and we never grow to the point where we actually come and adore Him.
You might remember that a man once approached Jesus and asked Him what was the most important commandment. This man wanted to make sure that he did what was required. So Jesus boiled it down and said the most important commandment is this: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. Basically Jesus says the most important thing you can do is adore God.
To love God with your heart means to love God with your emotions. It can be found in your joy. Praising Him with your happiness, smile, and gratitude is easy when things are going well. But to also praise God when things aren’t going so well. ALL your heart means at ALL times. Even when God seems quiet. Even when He says wait or says no.
To love the Lord with all your soul means to love Him in the way we live, in the choices we make, and in the behavior and lifestyle we adopt. The Bible defines our soul as our personality, the inner self and our identity. It’s where we make our decisions and choices that ultimately decide our lifestyle and behavior. Think of the soul as the core you. Loving God with our soul means that our choices become God-centered, and a lifestyle of humility and godliness is born.
Loving God with my mind means filling my mind with beauty and truth. Meditating on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy. Our thoughts and attitudes are determined by what we think. Someone has said, "The mind is to emotions what food is to our body." Our feelings are not just spontaneous but are produced by what we put into our minds. If we love God with our mind we will marvel at His character and attributes, we will desire to glorify Him, and we will recognize and respond to His love and goodness to us through Christ. Which will draw us to be near the One whom we love.
After I have been able to adore and love God with my heart, my soul, and my mind, then I can finally love God with my strength. My actions will show my love for God. Adoring God brings transformation. God is adored when I’m led by faith to act. Adoring God is doing things that are right even when people around me don’t understand. It’s speaking up when I see injustices. It’s caring for the physically and spiritually wounded. It is doing hard things that take a lot of effort. It’s even doing things that are right and good even when we don’t see any kind of reward.
This morning you are being called to come and adore Him. Like that little boy who was called by Santa Claus to come and join him, we are being called to come into the presence of God and Adore Him. You are being called to a deeper level of love and compassion. We can only Model Love in the Model City when we live lives of adoration.