Lots of people have lots of ideas about who Jesus is, but unless their ideas come from our only sourcebook on Jesus’ life and ministry – the Bible – they may not be correct! The purpose of this series is to help us understand who Jesus really is in light of Scripture.
There is a ‘viral’ video going around the Internet these days which you may or may not have seen. It shows what is called a “random act of culture”, whereby a bunch of singers spread themselves throughout Macy’s – the new home of the Wannamaker organ – and sing the “Hallelujah” chorus from The Messiah by G.F. Handel. If you haven’t seen it, watch it here and enjoy. (But don’t forget to come back!)
I was absolutely delighted to have watched this video, initially sent to me by a friend and Encouragement subscriber. Even as a “random act of culture”, it is enjoyable. But to us who appreciate the message behind the music, it means so much more.
One thing I really appreciated about it was the fact that people were gathering around for, listening to, even singing along with a piece of music that celebrates something decidedly not politically correct: keeping Christ in Christmas.
This Sunday marks the end of one Christian year and the beginning of another. November 28 is the first Sunday of Advent, the four-week season when we anticipate the coming (and coming again) of Jesus. This is the reality of the church, yet we are surrounded by sales, hurrying, and nebulous wishes of “Happy Holidays!”
There’s a disconnect between our reality and our world’s celebration of what it thinks is our reality that only we can change. You might not be able to arrange a rendition of the “Hallelujah” chorus in your nearby mall, but there are other things you can do. For example:
- When someone wishes you “Happy Holidays”, return that greeting with “Merry Christmas!” I do this customarily, and sometimes, from a retail clerk, will get a quiet “YES! He said ‘Merry Christmas’!” Don’t be afraid to stand up for the season.
- Or, you can choose not to give in to the retail bedlam that is a secular Christmas and give small, thoughtful, meaningful gifts to those with whom you wish to celebrate Jesus as the greatest gift ever given.
- Also, you can choose to integrate the Christmas story into your life beyond Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. You can use an Advent Wreath at home, as a means of preparing for the coming of the Lord. You can even have an Advent Wreath at work, if an open flame is permitted or practical, to show that you are getting ready for the Light of the world.
There are many things you can do. These are just ideas. Instead of a random act of culture, you can invoke a random act of faith this holiday season Christmas!
“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7.14, NIV).
On Thursday, Canadians marked Remembrance Day – an opportunity to pause in gratitude for those who gave themselves to the service of the nation and the cause of freedom. At St. Paul’s, Nobleton, since two of our LifeConnect Groups were meeting in the building, I put an internet feed of the service from the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa on the screens in our worship space. They paused to participate with me. During that broadcast, we heard that some 30,000 people were estimated to have gathered at the Memorial – more than had been seen at the cenotaph in recent memory.
As the years pass, so too do the veterans of our twentieth century war efforts. I believe that this was the first year at which no World War I veteran was present at the service. Our World War II and Korean War vets are aging, too. With their passing, we rely more and more on books, the media, and history teachers to remind us of the sacrifices made on our behalf – and on veterans of conflicts waged in more recent times.
I remember, as vividly as if it were yesterday, a war veteran being invited into my Grade Four classroom. He was a remarkable man, not least because he was missing most of one leg, thanks to a land mine. He told us what fighting on the front lines was like. It was decidedly enough to make me, and I’m sure my classmates, very interested in the promotion of peace.
We must remember what our war veterans have done for us, and in so doing, we must remember not to take these sacrifices for granted. Too often, that which is considered a part of ‘freedom’ in Canada today is not exactly what was envisioned by those who were risking or giving their lives against the wiles of tyranny: indeed, some of what passes for ‘freedom’ in our nation would be what our veterans would call ‘tyranny’!
My cousin quoted from our late Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, in a Facebook post on Thursday: “I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country.” I am, sadly, not altogether sure that we have all of these freedoms anymore – especially the ones to stand for what we think right, and to oppose what we believe wrong.
Follower of Jesus, you and I have a responsibility to hold high the torch that has been thrown to us, in the words of John McCrae’s poem. It is a responsibility to fight – hopefully in ways beyond the battle field – for a comprehensive freedom.
Francis Chan, an American church leader, has said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” There is a great deal for which we fight that, from an eternal perspective, matters not one iota. Remember our veterans, and fight for what is right.
Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to one lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15.13, NRSV).
My wife and I attended the funeral of a (long-retired) colleague on Thursday. Not only was he a colleague, but he was the father of another colleague, whom I count a dear friend. Walking into the worship space for the service was a bit like going into a Synod meeting, where I saw a throng of fellow pastors, many of whom I had not seen in years; some were contemporaries of the deceased, others were friends of the family, or fellow presbyters from days of yore. But they all came out to say good-bye to a friend.
Both of his sons spoke warmly of their dad, each in his own way from his own perspective. But what they shared had much in common: their dad was a man who loved God and expressed that love in service to others and in a life of prayer.
What struck me most, though, as I watched the family members interact with those who came to support them, was the truth of Paul’s words to the churches of Galatia: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2, NIV). Some people think funerals are morbid, but here’s the truth: a well-planned and well-crafted funeral to which friends are invited will help the bereft family along in its grieving process. Put more simply, a burden shared is a burden halved, as someone once said.
Paul’s principle is true for more than just grieving families at funerals, though. Anytime we take the opportunity to listen to another person unload his or her cares, we fulfill the law of Christ. When we assist someone who is having difficulty making ends meet, we fulfill the law of Christ. When we take time to look at church life from the perspective of a person who doesn’t yet have a personal relationship with Jesus, we fulfill the law of Christ.
Rick Warren’s first words in The Purpose-Driven Life are, “It’s not about you.” How true that is! My colleague, whose passing we gathered to mourn, lived a life that wasn’t about him. You and I can live lives that are not about us as we carry each other’s burdens, and fulfill the law of Christ.
Each of us knows someone who carries a heavy burden. How can we help that person today?