Earlier this morning I recalled a special joy that I am always excited to experience; and, it’s an Asbury tradition!
On the first Sunday of Advent each year, we decorate our sanctuary tree with lovely Chrismons…right in the middle of our worship service!
During the children’s moment of worship, I explain to the kids that Chrismons are ornaments that have been handmade by members of our church and each one of them points towards Jesus. Then, the children lead the whole congregation in decorating as we parade around the tree and hang the Chrismons!
It is really out of hand! It can be a little messy!
It can get noisy and there are lots of moving parts for this shared joy! But, in around seven minutes we have a fifteen-feet tall tree fully decorated, that points toward Christ and is ready to be enjoyed!
I inherited this Asbury tradition when I first began serving here and it is an unbelievable joy! I will readily admit that this is one unusual worship service, being chaotic and all…but the aliveness of this tradition is nothing short of soul renewal.
Now, contrast this with another experience that I had last week. I received a phone call that an old friend was in the hospital and he’d had both knees replaced. So, I went to see him.
It had been quite a while since we’d seen each other and it was a blessing to see his eyes light up when I walked into his room. He and I had been through some valleys together. I had presided over his father’s funeral.
We exchanged pleasantries and then before long my pal felt for some reason or another that he needed to unload on me about the fact that he no longer attended his life-long church but had moved on to a different one. AND, the reason he left his last church was because of kids!
“There were kids all over the place,” he said. “They were all in the pews and they never sat still!”
He allowed that when worship was over, “They ran! They ran all over the place! It wasn’t church! It was Romper Room!” (A very old children’s television show that aired when this guy was a child.)
So, he moved his membership to a church with no children. Here is how he describes worship at his new church:
“It’s quiet in there. People are not all moving around. We sit there and hear a sermon. We don’t have to move over and make room on a pew for families who come to church late with kids. This is the way that worship ought to be! Quite as a tomb!”
I replied, “Since this is how you feel, you are probably at the church that you need to be attending.”
I bit the end of my tongue off and suppressed what I really wanted to say, “Enjoy that quite as a tomb part! A tomb is dead!”
Life is chaotic. Life is messy. But…life is alive…living…breathing!
Right and left, churches are closing all around our region because there is no longer any life within them! Jesus called the religious leaders of his day, “Whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27).” Their religion was dead!
Luke tells us, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son (Luke 2:4-7a NIV).”
Everybody and their sister had turned up in Bethlehem to register for a census that was required by the Roman Empire. The place would have been busier than a county fair!
Of course, there was no room in the inn! People were stacked like cordwood.
Just outside the so-called inn, people were most likely engaged in their favorite pastime, drinking! And, with no modern plumbing you can guess at the unsanitary conditions.
Within this life Jesus came. Within the chaotic and messy circumstances of our lives, Jesus comes!
No, of course I am not advocating that we all worship irreverently, disrespectfully or carelessly. What I am saying is that Jesus shows up where there is life and where hearts are opened and where room is made for him; and, to quote Saint Francis, “He renews the face of the earth!”
Let every heart…
Prepare him room…
And, heaven and nature sing.