St. Luke’s account of the birth of our Lord is a favorite read during this Christmas season. It is an account filled with praise and glory to God. It contains Mary’s wonderful song “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” When John the Baptist was born his father, Zachariah, sang “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel…” The angels filled the heavens with praise singing “Glory to God in the highest…” When the baby Jesus was presented in the Temple the aged Simeon poured forth his thanksgiving and praise to God for allowing him to see the Christ Child. Praise should be a characteristic of God’s people. Yes, we are in a broken and sin filled world with many trials, but we are here with our God who has chosen to occupy this world with us, promising never to leave or forsake us. His strength, His life giving presence, is here in the midst of all our times and needs, and, in Christ Jesus, has promised to complete all of the good purpose for which we were created. In each of our days we have many reasons to give praise to our gracious God.
We had the privilege last evening of sharing in a service of holy communion with several hundred others. We were at a gathering of Lutherans celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The music was magnificent with organ, choir, and five piece brass ensemble. Eight clergy in white albs and stoles served. The Gospel was spoken clearly in liturgy and homily. The congregates came forward to receive the bread and wine, the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, with its assurance of forgiveness, cleansing, and new life. All that surrounded the service was a glorious worship experience. But I had to also think of the service of Holy Communion that I will share with my home congregation on Sunday morning with 20 people, and without choir or brass ensemble. Also the many other congregations of our size and even less who will do the same. The truth is that the worship we will share is no less glorious because the presence of God’s Holy Word is there, and the bread and wine of the blessed sacrament are give. All the additions are nice, but the true church is present where the Word of God is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered. And that is true whether 2 or 200 receive it. We give thanks and praise for God’s abundant grace.
I never cease to marvel at the opening words of St. John’s Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”(1:1-5) The Word is Jesus, verse 14, the divine Son of God. He is the author of all things, and the source of all life. It is through Jesus that life is understood, and no darkness of this world can change His truth. And “from the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.”(vs.16) Emmanuel, Almighty God with us. What an astounding marvel! In total humility, His is worthy of all our worship.
Lord, what do I say this morning as a greeting and encouragement to these people I care about. I don’t really have anything to say. It is only You who can truly encourage us. Only You have the Words of Life. Only You can speak in the quietness of our hearts to say what we need to hear. Speak to us, Lord Jesus. Let the calmness and peace of Your Spirit rest in us. Help us to know that, in You, we have forgiveness, wholeness, and peace. Bring forth from our hearts Your praise and worship all through this day, and our encouragement will simply be in knowing that we are walking through this day together. All glory, thanks and praise to You, Lord Jesus. Amen.
There is an on going discussion between churches that use the historic liturgy for their worship and those which are more free in form. Sometimes we, and I’m writing from a Lutheran perspective worshiping with a liturgical form, sometimes we are accused of being dead and doing things by rote. But that is not the case at all. Yes, the liturgy takes a little time to learn and get accustomed to, but it provides a beauty and depth not found in other forms of worship. It doesn’t seek to copy the forms and freedom of society, but gives a stability not found in our often chaotic world. There is a bond with all of the saints before us. But more important it exalts the holiness of our God seeking to draw many into a right relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. God’s holy word and the grace given in the sacraments are central to all we do. It is God who came first to us while we were helpless. He came to draw us into the fullness of His life. That is what we have the privilege of sharing every week in Word and Sacrament.
In chapter 28 of the Old Testament book of Numbers the Lord gave instructions for daily offerings, Sabbath offerings monthly offerings, the Passover, and other regular festivals. It seems a bit tedious when we read these instructions. We know that in Christ we are not bound by Jewish laws, but a point still remains. We need continual reminders to stay close to the Lord. God is not an egotist that needs our devotions, but He knows that we need them – whether daily Bible reading and pray, weekly worship, church prayer rings, etc. – to stay a part of Him where we find our strength and life. God is spirit so we don’t see Him with our eyes, and our busyness always wants to pull us away from the things of the Lord. Yet, we find our greatest joy in being continually a part of His life. “Let us not give up meeting together, (or daily Bible reading and prayer) as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)
We say that our God is a holy God. Do we really have any idea what holiness is? One image from Revelation 4 says, “there before me was a throne in heaven … and the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne… from the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God… In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, … Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”(vss.1-8) No earthly image can fully depict the true holiness, and awesome magnitude and majesty of our God. We must never think that we are worthy in ourselves to stand before this God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”(Romans 3:23) Only by the blood of Christ can we approach that throne. It is only in the righteousness He alone gives that we are worthy to enter. Our life is in humbly kneeling before the cross with the greatest of thanksgiving on our lips.
Music is throughout the Psalms, and some gets quite noisy – sounding of trumpets, harps and lyres, tambourine and dancing, strings and flutes, the clash of cymbals, and resounding cymbals. (Ps.150) But it is all aimed at the outpouring of praise and thanksgiving to our gracious God. Or consider Psalm 71. “I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I, whom you have redeemed. …”(vss.22-24) “Well,” we might say, “that is really not my style of worship.” The point here is not one of style. It is a heart so filled with gratitude to our gracious Lord that it can’t be contained. We have just come through the Easter account, retelling the amazement of those first witnesses to the risen Christ. Their joy couldn’t be contained. It was so great that they spread the word to all the world in their generation. Jesus is still alive, and has done just as much for each of us. Should not our hearts overflow with joy?
Do you worship the Lord? I’m not asking if you go to church on Sundays. That is important, and we belong together in the fellowship of believers. But do you worship the Lord frequently each day? Look around in the beauty of the world He has given. Of course there are problems and a lot of nasty stuff. Stuff mankind has allowed to come in and sully this world. But beyond that in the beauty of the trees, the birds that come to the bird feeder outside the window, the kindness of one who goes out of their way to help, the next breath we take which is given by God’s grace, and above all the new life we’ve been given in Jesus Christ. There are reasons to rejoice, give thanks, and worship all around us. “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation… let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.”(Psalm 95:1,6)
Many of the Psalms are prayers against enemies, or for deliverance from trouble, but there are many, also, that are pure and beautiful praise. “Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise Him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten stringed lyre.” (Ps.33:1-2) The psalmist knew that it is in praise that our eyes are turned to the Lord, and that we are drawing near to Him in trust. It is in praise that we feel the strength of the Lord. The Lord seeks the worship of His people, not because He needs it, but because He knows that in worship our relationship with Him is deepened. This is why we gather weekly in our churches. Not to fulfill some duty we feel we have toward God, but to know the joy of drawing near to the Throne of Grace. “In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You.” (vs.21-22)