During my first year of studies at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, I had the privilege of playing my violin in the orchestra pit for North Raleigh Christian Academy's production of Singin' in the Rain. The production was a lot of fun, and even now, there are times when this song and others from the musical will get stuck in my head (like right now). If we choose to sing in the rain, doing so can make us "happy again."
But what about pain? Maybe you lose a loved one. Maybe you lose your source of income. Maybe you lose your health. Maybe someone important walks out of your life. Maybe you are a victim of emotional or other abuse. Whatever the source of your pain, your first reaction is seldom if ever - to sing. But it is possible.
In Acts Chapter 16, Paul and Silas are beaten and imprisoned for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A first century Philippian prison would not be the most conducive place for singing. Despite their pain and their circumstances, Acts 16:25 tells us, "But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." How many of the Psalms (songs) in our Bible were composed out of painful circumstances! The Bible teaches that God not only gives us a song in the night (Psalm 42:8, "In the night, His song shall be with me.") but that He Himself is our song (Exodus 15:2, "The LORD is my strength and song; and He has become my salvation."
No matter how painful your circumstances may be at this moment, ask God to give you the ability to sing in the pain.
Photo Credit: torbakhopper Used by permission under Creative Commons License
To many people, teachings of a virgin birth, a star, angels appearing unto shepherds, and a Savior being born may sound odd. It would be like cracking open a book for the first time and starting to read in the middle. You don't know any of the characters, the setting, the purpose, the conflict; you just pick up in the middle of the story. This year, in my preaching and personal study, I've been setting the Christmas story in its larger Gospel narrative story. The Gospel narrative follows these major checkpoints: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.
With Creation, we find the roots of Christmas. We find God's original plan - the Edenic perfection that God will one day restore. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen. 1:1) The Bible declares this. "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made." (John 1:3) This is a fact that we must accept by faith. Adopting a biblical worldview with God as Creator places Him in charge. He sets the rules. We are the created. We receive our existence from Him. The purpose of our existence is inseparably wrapped up in His will. "It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves." (Psalm 100:3) Our departure from this realization created the need for Christmas.
I find it interesting that, as intelligent people, we ordinarily have no trouble inferring creative activity over against a hodgepodge of disorganized messes. For example, if I show you a fully wrapped gift that is placed under my Christmas tree, you naturally infer that someone wrapped the gift. If I place a tape dispenser, a pair of scissors, a roll of wrapping paper, and the gift on a table, how long would I need to wait for the gift to be wrapped? Years? Centuries? Millions of Years? Will it ever happen? Apart from the origins of the universe, we never apply the same assumptions about origins. And yet the universe is (obviously) far more complex than any of these other things that require agency to come together. Not to mention - wouldn't someone have to create the first matter from which all else evolved?
The story of Christmas - of God sending His Son to be the Savior of fallen mankind - can never make complete sense to people who reject the idea of creation. God created the world. He created you and me. He loves us and desires fellowship with us. The events of Christmas occurred to move us along this overall trajectory - of bringing us full circle back to the perfection God had created.
You may be happy to learn that I have the same church attendance trends in my church that you have in yours. I have a handful of people who attend every week (and two of us are paid to be there). I have Chreaster Christians - those who attend Christmas and Easter. I have everyone in between. On average, it is safe to say that my people attend a couple of times a month. When I mentioned this to my Assistant Pastor, who joined our team a few months ago, he helped me learn that this is a nationwide trend. It didn't use to be the case, when I was a child. To be sure, there are cultural trends that have driven much of this, but it feels like there is more. To show my cards a little bit up front, I sense that we need a fresh look at our theology of corporate worship. So as I go through answering this question which headlines this blog, I hope to do so in a way that gets us thinking about the bigger picture.