What brings you to worship? Worship is more than going to church on a Sunday morning. That is certainly important, but worship is the attitude of the heart that bows humbly before the awe, the wonder, the majesty of the God who created us. It is as expressed in Psalm 8. “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?”(vss.3-4) I ask again, what brings you to worship? What do you see with your heart that draws you into the Holy Presence at the Throne of Grace? It may be the grandure of the Hallelujah Chorus. It may be the breathtaking beauty of something in nature. It may be the wonder of a God, our God, who came as the Bethlehem baby. Whatever it is it is that which brings us into the building we call a church to sing, to pray, to hear God’s word, and to kneel at the altar hearing the words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”. We don’t go to church to worship. We bring worship into the church joining humbly with others before the majesty of our God.
Music is a wonderful gift God has given to mankind. Whether it is the ancient Psalms of the shepherd boy, David, or the modern compositions of today, it is a way of touching the deepest parts of life. Music is in cultures worldwide. And for us it is an expression of our praise and the glory of our gracious Lord. Psalm 22 verse 3 says that the Lord is enthroned on the praises of his people. When we sing or sing along with songs of worship and praise, even if we can’t carry a tune very well, we draw near to the throne of God. God is never far from any of us, but our songs of praise make us more aware of His nearness and His care. “O my strength, I will sing praises to You; For God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.”(Psalm 59:17)
Do we really understand the magnitude of God’s holiness? Holiness is absolute purity, perfection, the epitome of all that is good and right. Do we really understand the depth of our own sinful nature? Sin is our rebellion from God, our putting our desires, our will above that of our Creator. Do we really understand the fullness of God’s love? Love that is not a feeling, but a total willingness to give, even to self-sacrifice for the good of another. Do we really understand the magnitude of God’s grace? Grace is a free gift, something we receive which we do not deserve, did not earn, and have done absolutely nothing to merit. I’m not sure we really understand the depth of any of these. I know I don’t. We hear these words frequently in our churches – holiness, sin, love, grace. As we meditate on the meaning of each of these, and far more than I’ve expressed here, we begin to see something of who God is, who we are, and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We owe our life, now and eternally, to the One who has loved us so much that He freely gave the life of His only begotten Son to redeem us from sin and death, to bring us into His holiness. As we think about the magnitude of God’s act we come before Him in humble worship.
Scripture uses a number of forms to convey its truth. Some things are quite literal, other figurative or allegorical. We don’t set aside our human reason when we read the Bible, but we do need to be careful how we apply it. I ran across one example, perhaps minor, in Psalm 147 verse 4. “He determines the number of the stars, and calls them all by name”. Well now, we know from astronomy that there are billions and billions of stars. We’ve looked into the heavens and can’t even fathom its magnitude. It is not within human reason to know the full number of them, and to give each one a name – really? But this is Almighty God we are talking about. Is it not possible that such a statement is literally true? How about a great fish swallowing a man, or creating the cosmos in six days? Let’s be careful how much reason we apply to Scripture. Let the Bible be its own interpreter. We weren’t there when creation came into being, nor were we on the boat with Jonah. Our God is a awesome God, and capable of more that we can ever imagine. “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”(147:5) Let us bow in worship.
Today is more than a day for taking out the trash from all the gift wrapping paper and sorting out the presents to keep and those to be returned. It is more than searching for after Christmas bargains and merchants getting ready for the next holiday sale. Tradition in many areas notes today as the first of the twelve days of Christmas leading up to Epiphany and the coming of the Wise Men on January sixth. Even apart from tradition Christmas can’t be dismissed easily. God has come among us. In a wonderful and mysterious way He has bound Himself to His creation, and promised to complete the purpose for which we were made. Jesus is not only the reason for this season, He is the reason for life itself. The Baby of Bethlehem came to redeem us from the power of sin and death, giving life to all who come to Him. That is not a decoration to be put away until next year. It is the joy in which we live and the reason for our humble worship every day.
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.