Posts Tagged ‘advent’

This week was the fourth week in our advent series, Let Heaven and Nature Sing and in it we explored the story of the classic hymn We Three Kings and the story of the coming of the Magi from Matthew 2.

This is the third message in our Advent Series, Let Heaven and Nature Sing. This one is based on the classic hymn Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

The second message in my advent series at church, Let Heaven and Nature Sing. This one is based on the classic hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem.

For the first week of Advent we will be looking at some hf the great songs of the season and what we can learn from them. First up: Joy to the World.

At my church this year for advent, I wanted to address something that worries me, that, on the surface, sounds like it shouldn’t. I sometimes worry that we know the Christmas story too well. I know, right? You might be thinking, “Cry me a river, pastor. You think people might know a text too well.” Not exactly. What concerns me is that people know the story so well that they take it for granted, and cease to be blown away by how amazing the story actually is. I mean, this is the incarnation, God becomes a man and comes to earth, born a baby, to experience all of life as we do, set a perfect example, prepare the way for us to receive eternal life, teach us all that the Lord wants us to know and dying to secure the way to God for all who will believe. It’s a beautiful, nearly scandalous story that I never want to see people miss because they think they know it. So how to present this powerful story in a way that makes people really take it to heart? Well I got creative.

I started reading through the text, selected four people intimately involved in the story and really studied all that the Scripture says about them. This led to a series I called “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” In the series I looked at four “men” (one of them was an angel, hence the quotes) and told the story as best I could, from their perspective as if I were them, dramatically. It was one of the most commented upon series I have ever done, but aside from that, it blessed me. I had to really delve into the story. I had to dig deep and I had to really put myself in their shoes, because I was going to quite literally put myself in their shoes. I had to think things like, “How would they have experienced this moment?” and “Would he really say that?” It was one of the most rewarding study experiences I have ever had.

The other thing was, I had no desire and felt no leading for costumes, but his would I get the people to forget it was me and imagine the person in question was speaking to them. I ended up doing what I do best, i.e., making art. I did a portrait of each of the people I was portraying and put them in the front of the sanctuary. Rather than speed painting these “live” since advent series’ tend to be very full, I took my time and painted them in my studio. This also ended up being a blessing, because I could really push myself artistically. I had a great time with this series, but that’s not why I share this. I share it to encourage you to take the familiar passages and find a different way to present them—a way that will be faithful to the text and yet creative enough to get people to see something they already know with fresh eyes. I believe God gave us our creative gifts for this very reason. How can you help people to really see God’s truth?

Here are the portraits. They are Gabriel, a shepherd (who I named Itzhak), John the Baptist (because if you’re going to talk about preparing the way for Jesus, he can’t be left out) and finally Joseph.

lightndarknessI wrote this for an advent reading for Christmas Eve at my church and thought it might be good to share here. If you’re from my church, you might want skip this one.

Imagine this room was totally dark. You couldn’t see a thing, but then someone lit a match, a candle, even a small spark. It might be small but in total darkness it’s the only then you would see and it would completely draw your attention. That’s the power of light. It makes darkness disappear. Even a tiny light overcomes the darkness.

Think about our world. Now imagine it in total darkness. In some ways it’s not terribly hard. War and terror and disease and pain and a whole bunch of other things that could make our lives and our world feel very dark. There are times when we might be tempted to look at God and ask “How could you let this happen?” What we need to remember is this is not the world as God intended. As a matter of fact the first words of God recorded in Scripture are “Let there be light.”

Having said this on the first day, He didn’t make our sources of light, the sun the moon and stars until the fourth day. Before that, He was the light. He is the light. 1 John 1:5 reminds us, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

The darkness in the world is the result not of God’s will, but of the fall of man. If the world is dark, It’s our fault. Still God’s desire for us is not that we would walk in darkness, but that we would live in the light of His love, not just in this world, but forever, and so He set a plan in place to make it so. Isaiah 9 foretold it. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 700 years before the birth of Christ, God proclaimed it, the light is coming. 2,000 years after that first Christmas night, the light is here. Can you see it? Can you see Him?

Jesus came to be so many things, Lord, Savior, King, Teacher, Perfect Example and yes Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. He is all those things and many more, but one of the big ones is found in John 8: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He came to be our light, to light our path through this life to eternity. No believer can deny that and yet we might ask “If that is the case, why is our world so dark.” Then you might read John 9:5 “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

So does that mean Jesus is no longer with us? No, remember the angel told us He would be Immanuel, God with us.” And He is with us. And maybe, just maybe that’s why in the Sermon on the mount, He pointed to us, His followers and said “You are the light of the world. “ The light has come and He gave His life and He lives in us, and we are called to shine with His light. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light and that light still shines. The question for us is will we shine? He is the light. Let Him shine through you!

I love the Christmas season. I love everything about it but the weather that sometimes comes with it here in PA, and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, the holidays are almost here. There is one other pressure though. As a pastor I am painfully aware of how often the people in my care have heard this most blessed Christmas story. I want to make sure that I bring this unchanging story to them in a way that is fresh and interesting. I could fret over this, but instead I choose to see it as a creative challenge. You should too.

What are you doing to creatively express the greatest story every told? Are there opportunities for you to do something in your church to enhance the celebration? Is there something you mighty do to hep people see the story with “fresh eyes?” I there a way to express it to someone who is not as familiar or a way to take the story to the streets of your community?

For our church, this year my wife started my wheels turning. She was working on something for decorating the area around our advent wreath and she decided to create a sign based on the lyrics of a classic Christmas carol, (I won’t tell you which one, since my church folks read this blog and I want them to be surprised.) As I looked up the carol in the hymnal to defamiliarize myself with the lyrics, I saw that there are four verses each with a unique theme surrounding the story. As providence would have it there are also four Sundays in Advent. Suddenly I was inspired and the theme began to take shape. That was my inspiration, what’s yours? Share it in the comments below.

I’m looking forward to seeing what you’re doing.

Preaching around Advent is always somewhat daunting. The rest of the year, one has the entire Bible to choose from, but around Christmas, it can often feel as though a preacher is limited to four chapters, Matthew 1 and 2 and Luke 1 and 2. Then there is the realization that the people in your congregation probably already feel they know the story so well, it can be easy for them to disengage. The thing is, we don’t really know the story as well as we think we do. Over time, Christmas songs and other things have added to and fleshed out the story. As a result, some lines between fact and fiction have been blurred.

Then there is the fact that we know how the story ends and we take some things for granted, that are really quite extraordinary. For example, When the angel told Mary that she was about to become the mother of Jesus, her response was “May it be to me as you have said.” I don’t think we comprehend the courage this took. Mary was already betrothed (think of betrothal as a legally binding engagement) to Joseph. For her to be found pregnant by anyone other Joseph, the penalty was to be stoned to death in the doorway of her father’s house. Her agreement to go through with God’s plan was an act of radical faith. There are so many other aspects to this story, that really demand another reading, with fresh eyes. Try to put aside that you know how the story ends and read it as if you are experiencing it for the first time. You’ll be glad you did.

Now as a public service to you, I am going to give you the first half of a Christmas quiz I found in a Youth Specialties resource. This quiz is hard and I think it will help you see how much of this story we take or granted. Answers appear at the bottom.

Answers: 1. f., 2. false, 3. true, 4. e., 5. c., 6. f., 7. c., 8. f., 9. d., 10. c.

adventgraphic123Today I was working on developing the advent readings for my church’s upcoming advent services (Sunday, November 29, is the first Sunday in Advent). It has been interesting. I started by writing the readings people in my congregation will read. I went by the traditional meanings for the four candles, Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. From here, I want to do something really meaningful, creative and artistic. I’m not really sure what that is yet, so I thought I would float it out there, to see what you think.

I want this advent season to be more than just another retelling of the Christmas story. I want to help people grasp the full weight of what the birth of Christ means to each of us. My greatest desire is for people to not just enjoy a story they already know, but rather to have them see it with “new eyes” and to be spurred on to acts of love and good deeds, life change and calling. In short I want to see Jesus move in all of our hearts, transform and empower us to live out His mission in our world.

The literal definition of the word “advent” is “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” To be sure, we celebrate the most notable person of all time. May He inspire us to live notable lives in Him!

1511141_10152437276997190_1144053722466608095_nAs pastor of creative arts at my church, I get asked to help design creative things for the church. For last year’s advent series, I did three large paintings down in my studio by myself. They came out great and it was fun, but something was missing. This year I designed the work and handed it off to the creative arts team. My pastor’s wife took them from there she converted them into three dimensional pieces. Then the team painted them and I came in and helped to do some detail. I love to create but it is so much more fun to create in community. What we created will be used to enhance the messages, beautify the church, etc. What a great experience.

This is one of the pieces. There’s a different one for each message. These pieces are part of how we will express the story of Jesus. What is your church doing for advent? How can you and/or your church use your creative gifts to bring forth the meaning of this most joyous time of year?

Share your ideas in the comments below.