As we approach Christmas, it is the season that church has, historically, called Advent. I thought I would re-share some old thoughts about Christmas in this time. Hymn numbers are from the 2008 Baptist Hymnal (which the Apostle Paul would not have used, since he didn’t speak English), but it was the hymnal I had when I wrote this. Apart from Scripture quotes (next time, I’ll probably use CSB all through…just kidding) the copyright on this completely mine.
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24 (NASB95)
If you live in the South, you probably realize that many Southerners do love football. Especially college football. The traditions and excitement that surround Saturdays between September and December overtake even the most casual of fans, and cause some of the sanest of people to do some rather crazy things.
The traditions of college football are as diverse as the crowds that do them. In Oxford, Mississippi, the well-dressed members of the football team walk through the tailgating crowd to get to the stadium. In Arkansas, grown people stand up and shout “Woo! Pig! SooIEEEE! to call the Hogs. Auburn University lets an eagle fly around the stadium.
Even the idea of “tailgating” is a strange one: essentially, people show up around the stadium way too early for the game, cooking food, sharing food with total strangers, and sometimes just eating without bringing anything at all. There are reports that some people go just to tailgate, and then sit outside with their big-screen TVs in the back of a pick-up truck and watch the game there.
In all, football around here leads to some strange practices. There are unwritten rules and written rules for these matters. In most places, the written rules are posted and have to do with how much space you can take up, what methods can be used to cook, and how early you can be there. These rules may address bringing generators, tents, or rolling out fake grass. The unwritten rules are a different story. Some places, those rules include not using profanity around women and children. Some places, those rules are about how much food you have to bring if you want to eat other people’s food. The rules may apply to how loud your music is or if fans of the opposite team get to eat or get harassed.
As Shakespeare might think, though, here’s the rub: do you know the rules? Many people that participate know the rules at home, but they are clueless on the road. Others, like me, have heard the rumors and the legends, but have never participated. So I have no idea what the actual rules would be. I actually do not even know if the rules are different from War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock to Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, and the same team plays both places!
When faced with so many ways to celebrate and congregate, how does one educate? How do the rules get passed on? Well, if you are fortunate, you get to start off life taking part in these times. You go as a kid and learn as you grow. Perhaps you come later, but have a friend who teaches you the rules.
And all this is just about football. What about something that really matters? We count down the days until game day, but we are also counting the days until Christmas. Not just because last-minute shopping just excites us, but because we look forward to celebrating the greatest that could happen. God comes, steps into history, and makes it possible that we can come to Him.
That excites me more than football. It ought to excite us all more than anything else that happens. Yet what are the rules for that excitement? That answers seems to parallel tailgating as it really does vary from place to place. One group would like you to dress this way, another that way—try showing up in a “contemporary” church with a tie on and see what reaction you get. One group celebrates so calmly that you hate to wake them up to end the service, while another group rattles the roof more than raises it!
So who is right? Jesus is right. He told the Samaritan woman above that worship was about “spirit and truth.” One good way to understand that is this: it is not about location, for God is everywhere. It is not about right opinions, but about God’s truth. Worship is about Him.
As you next read the Christmas story, look for how the shepherds, Magi, or even Mary and Joseph worshipped Christ. The Magi brought gifts, certainly, but did the shepherds? Who sang? The biblical story records no singing in the whole situation. Yet the shepherds know something important is happening: the angels told them. The Magi know, for they would not have made the trip for a hunch. Mary and Joseph certainly know the truth.
Yet their worship is not about the specific practices. When Jesus is the High Priest, it is not about the practice of worship. Worship is instead about the object of worship. Worship is about Jesus. The Christmas story records little of how the people worshipped the Baby Jesus because the story is about Jesus, not about them.
Considering Jesus as the High Priest above all practices reminds us of this: our focus on Him is what matters. If you walk away from worship speaking of the music and the feelings but not of Jesus, then you have missed the point. If you walk away from worship and speak of nothing or worse, complain of the hard pews or the time taken, then you have missed the point.
The practices are to run second to the Person of Christ.
Scripture passage for the day: Psalm 150:6 (HCSB)
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.
Hymn for the day: What Child is This? #198
Prayer: Lord God, let my worship focus on You. I want to be less concerned with how and more concerned with whom. I repent of demanding the perfect environment to worship, and commit myself to worship as long as You and You alone are the object of my efforts. Thank You for grace through Jesus, in His name I pray, Amen.
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