Welcome to the Waretown United Methodist Church Christmastime Session Discipleship Initiative! For the next four weeks we will be posting a once weekly reflection on Scripture, Mission, and the book Right Here Right Now: by Alan Hirsch & Lance Ford. This Blog/Facebook discussion is part Bible Study, part Book Discussion, and part Practical Worskshop. You may post responses to this post (either on the blog or Facebook), repost, start a new related post, or message with others regarding the posted discussion for the week. Before you begin, please observe the following practices:
1. PRAY before you start! When we are in connection with God daily… God works in and through our lives to bring insight, inspiration, and understanding.
2. ENGAGE others in the group and outside. What God reveals to us through insight, inspiration and understanding is not meant for us alone… but others as well. God wants to use all of us to bring love, grace, hope, and faith to others.
3. RESPECT everyone. Sometimes we don’t agree… that’s OK. Consider every person and post to be earnestly seeking the best that God has to offer.
4. PARTICIPATE. It’s easy to passively observe… it takes guts to get in on the action! God is not calling for armchair quarterbacks, or part-timers. The only way to experience anything from this is to be ‘ALL IN’.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting Christmas
I’m not a really big fan of ‘end of the world’ preaching and teaching. Indeed, much of such teaching is performed in churches by pastors who do little else but fill brains and airwaves with a lot of judgment and speculation.
Still, Jesus did talk and warn about ‘the end of the world’ as we know it… and his return at the close of this creation. In whatever way it is we envision ‘the end of the world’, or in whatever way we believe it or understand it, the one enduring and undeniable truth is that even if the world doesn’t end in our lifetime… our own life does. We are all given only one lifetime to live in the best way we can.
OK… so this is not shaping up to be a very warm and fuzzy Christmas discussion to kick-off this four-week series, but it IS the subject of the Christian Church’s set of traditional Christmas readings. Look at part of the reading for this week:
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
So, what does ‘the end of the world’ have to do with Christmas? Well, the enduring theme of the coming of the messiah (we remember that IS the reason for the season… the birth of Jesus the Savior) is to be READY… to EXPECT his coming. Scripture tells us that Jesus is coming again in the future. Thus, the all-important Christmas question is the same as the all important ‘end of the world’ question:
Are our lives being lived the best way they can be? Are we living in synch with our faith, the Scriptures, and what we know to be God’s will and plan past, present, and future?
Unfortunately, our culture keeps us 100% preoccupied with consuming, keeping up with the Joneses, and chasing fleeting entertainment, pleasure, comfort and security. The result is a super-crazy, super-anxious, and super-materialistic life that, while it boasts some great gadgets and creature-comforts, is often less than fulfilling and less than faithful. And, within this our culture keeps us 100% misinformed about the role of faith in our lives. Our culture, to the extent that it values faith in God at all, encourages it merely as a token: an hour a week on Sunday, a few bucks in the collection plate, and a few prayers and we are made to believe we are good and faithful with our lives.
In the beginning of chapter 4 of Lance Ford’s and Alan Hirsch’s book: Right Here Right Now, on page 122, there begins a discussion comparing the church of Laodicea mentioned in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, (which by the way is full of ‘end of the world’ stuff) with the church in the United States today. Jesus had a message for the church at Laodicea based upon its preoccupation with wealth and status and pleasure and materialism, a church in a culture much like the one we find ourselves in today. In fact, on page 131-132, they say this about Christmas in America:
“Each Christmas season is met with sermons, magazine articles, and internet blogs that decry the commercialization of Christmas. Pastors preach sermons that voice disdain over Jesus’ birth being obscured by the orgy of shopping. I really don’t know what the fuss is all about. Christmastime is simply a grand finale to a year’s worth of consumption. It should be no surprise his birth is overshadowed- for the whole year leading up to Christmas the life of Jesus is suppressed by consumption in the lives of his followers”.
Here is more discussion on Chapter 4 from the authors of Right Here Right Now:
I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot.So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.
This Christmas, as in Christmases past, we have a choice: buy into the crazy-commercialism of our culture or EXPECT that God’s will and ways, God’s plans and purpose, God’s love and authority are shaping the world now and the world to come. With this expectation comes a reordering of priorities around faith, love, joy, peace, goodwill, and generosity. With this expectation comes an awareness that the ‘stuff’ our culture champions (in terms of material wealth, entertainment, comfort, security, etc.) is weighing us down spiritually, making us drunk and drowsy.
Let’s be ready to EXPECT the fullness of God in Jesus this Christmas!