Dec. 3, 2017 Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully
Scripture: Luke 1: 46-55
I don’t know about you, but I’m always surprised how quickly Christmas comes around. I mean, it was just a few weeks ago that we were taking the kids trick-or-treating…And I swear the very next day the Halloween candy was off the shelves and replaced with wrapping paper and Christmas decorations. We’re always in a rush to get to Christmas, because deep down we know that it’s a game-changer. We know there’s something different about Christmas that moves our spirits in new and meaningful ways, but the challenge for us is to remember what Christmas really is. Christmas is a divine conspiracy where God enters our story and changes it. And so for us it’s not nearly enough to resist the so-called “war on Christmas;” If we really want to keep Christ in Christmas, then we have to let the story change us again; to change us into people who worship fully, spend less, give more and love all. That’s what the Advent Conspiracy is all about, and that’s what we’ll be talking about over the next several weeks.
That first Christmas story is pretty amazing when you really think about it. One of the first people to play a role is a young girl named Mary, and there’s nothing about her that stands out. And that’s just the point. Before the amazing announcement that she will carry the Son of God in her womb, Mary is an obscure figure in a Middle Eastern town. Nobody notices her; there’s little reason to. She’s poor and lowly. Her family has no political ties, no financial power, no influence in that Roman-controlled culture. And then all of a sudden, an angel appears out of nowhere and says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” Why is this so important? Because Mary knows, without a shred of doubt, that God has seen her. And this changes everything.
We have a common human desire to be seen and noticed. It’s a need that starts early and never truly goes away. I see this everyday with my little Carmyn. When she wants to get my attention, she’ll grab ahold of my finger and say, “Come here.” And then she’ll lead me into another room where she’ll show me a toy, a project or something on tv. All because she wants me to simply notice what she’s been up to. And as soon as I see what she hopes I see, she’s good to go. She knows that she’s been seen, and for her that’s enough. But this need to be seen continues well into adulthood. My brother shot a buck this weekend (and I didn’t) and so I was just a little jealous when he quickly took a picture and sent it to me. He didn’t do it to rub it in my face; he did it because he was proud, and he wanted his big brother to notice and be proud of him and be proud with him. You see, there’s a link we’ve cultivated between being seen and feeling significant. If people take notice of us, if others see us, then we feel important, worthy and our lives have meaning. But far too many people, maybe even some of you, go largely unnoticed by this big old world and are left to wonder if anything about your lives truly matter.
One of the ways our culture has responded to this need to be noticed is through the advent of selfies. You know what a selfie is? It’s a new word we were introduced to a few years ago. A selfie is a picture you take of yourself and then you show it to people who already know what you look like. This new selfie world we live in is largely the result of a desire to be known, a desire for others to see us, because, again, if we are seen, then there must be some type of value attached to our lives. We see pictures of the rich and famous dotting the headlines and there’s a part of us that wants similar exposure. People talk about what they see. We talk about President Trump. We talk about Ben Roethlisberger. We talk about Ellen. Why? Because we see them all the time. So we take selfies, as if to say to the world, “Hey, don’t forget about me. Notice me. See me. My life matters too!”
If anyone had reason to question the significance of her life, it would’ve been Mary. In the grand cosmos of the world, where we find it easy to talk about beauty and mystery, Mary is largely known by what she is instead of who she is. Rarely do we talk about her character. Mostly we just list words like virgin, betrothed, engaged, pledged. As if Mary is simply a vessel to be used. Even Joseph has trouble seeing anything else, because as soon as he finds out she is pregnant, he’s ready to rip up the paperwork, jump ship and get on with his life. But on this first Advent, God makes it abundantly clear to Mary that he sees her. Not as a virgin, not as an instrument, not as a tool, not even as a peasant girl, but he sees her for who she is. And in God’s eyes, she is highly favored.
Just picture that scene for a moment. The God of the Universe, the same God who hangs the stars and paints morning sunrises, is telling a little-know girl from Bethlehem that she is highly favored. That same little girl of lowly estate, powerless to have any authority over her own life, is precious in God’s sight. That same girl who is known mostly by her engagement to a man named Joseph is told that the Lord of all Creation is with her. What would’ve been your response if you had been in those shoes? My guess is you would’ve been just like Mary. You would’ve broken out into song and praise, worshipping God like never before! That’s exactly what Mary does. She breaks out into worship. For Mary, being seen by God is enough. It’s enough to satisfy the deepest longings in her soul. It’s enough to know that her life is important. And it’s enough to remember that no matter what twists and turns her life takes, she is no longer forgotten, alone or obscure. God has seen her. She is precious, chosen, loved and significant.
Pretty soon (and maybe if you were out on Black Friday you’ve already experienced this), but pretty soon you will start a mad dash toward Christmas that will leave you tired, restless and maybe even irritated. And like Charlie Brown, you might find yourself yelling to no one in particular, “Does anybody really know what Christmas is all about?” The conspiracy of Advent, the story of Jesus dwelling with us, invites us to rethink and maybe even challenge our normal approaches to Christmas. You see the good news of Christmas isn’t the story of three wise men bringing gifts of the Christ Child. It’s a good part of the story, but it’s not the first part. The good news of Christmas is that a Savior has been born to set people free, and that salvation, that freedom, begins with a God who looks at creation and sees. The incarnation (God putting on flesh) is about God taking notice of you and proclaiming that you are so important that he is willing to come and be a part of your world. It’s no wonder Mary found her soul glorifying God and rejoicing in her Savior.
But here’s where we must finally make an uncomfortable break from our connection to Mary. By the world’s standards, we are nothing like Mary. We are not the poor; we’re the rich. We’re not the powerless; we’re the powerful. We’re not the hungry who need to be filled; we’re the ones who can make a quick trip to Wal-Mart for almost anything we need. In fact, even the poorest 5% of Americans are still richer than almost 70% of the rest of the world. So how do we rightfully sing Mary’s song? How do we find meaningful ways to celebrate Christmas when our stories are so vastly different than Mary’s?
I think it has something to do with seeing. Maybe this Christmas, we need to worship fully by fully throwing ourselves into God’s plan of setting the captives free. And worshipping fully means gathering on Christmas Eve to sing silent night while we light candles, but I think it also means preparing ourselves to see those in our world who have been silenced and those in our backyards who’ve had their lights doused. A few years ago, Casting Crowns wrote a song that touched on this. Here’s the chorus: “Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see? Or does anybody even know she's going down today? Under the shadow of our steeple With all the lost and lonely people, searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?”
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?”
There is a hope that’s tucked away in you and me, but it’s not meant to stay there. It’s meant to come down out of the steeples and into the living rooms, and around dining room tables and coffee shops. It’s meant to come out of heaven and into a stable. It’s meant to look into the faces of the Zaccheaus’s of the world and say, “I’m coming over and we’re having lunch today.” That’s how Christmas becomes Christmas. Who is the Mary next door silently pondering if her life has any meaning? Who is the young child wondering if anybody sees him? Who is the employee questioning if all he’ll ever amount to is a statistic and a number? Who are the lonely, the forgotten, the ignored, the pushed-to-the-side ones inwardly crying out, “Is there anyone who cares about my life?” Who do you need to see today? This is the Good News of Christmas- that God sees us all and loves us more than we could ever imagine. That’s life-changing gift. Amen.