As I entered Sunset Presbyterian Church this morning the sound of our music ministry filled the halls. I love this team. They rock. Seriously. Jay McKinney and his team along with the amazing production of Janet Fraser never fail to reach my heart and move me in profound ways.
However, this morning something made me roll my eyes. O Come, O Come Emanuel. Not another Christmas service. Ugh.
This time of year the message at Sunset and churches everywhere does a hard right turn. It's the birth of our Savior! The pews are filled with visiting Grandparents and kids home from college. Suddenly, we're singing Christmas carols to a full choir and the orchestra that will be performing at the concert that night. We're hearing stories of angels and virgin births. We're sitting and watching instead of standing and worshipping.
Yeah, I'm a real bah-humbug. I shared this opinion on the way out of church a couple Sundays ago and was glared at by anyone within earshot. My wife especially. She told me I shouldn't share this opinion with anyone else. Even her.
But I really don't like it.
This morning I sat there in service pouting because we were sitting. I thought, "Hey May-Decemberers! Welcome to my church. We STAND during service. This ain't Wisconsin!"
I prayed for God to focus my heart. So many things can distract you from worshipping God and hearing his message. I've learned the hard way to ignore them and try to find a place to connect. But I just couldn't do it. I was completely wrapped up in my own inner dialog.
The words of these songs just don't touch my heart. The Nativity story is wondrous. I love thinking about that time and what it must of been like. I believe it, but it just doesn't seem relevant. I feel like we're trying to PROVE it is real when faith alone is what we should rely on.
Then something profound happened in my soul. About two thirds away through I went from Negative Nancy to a man weak in the knees in worship. A favorite song started. Hillsong's Stronger melted my cold heart.
The words, focused not on Jesus's birth but on his LIFE revealed to me why I feel so resentful this time of year. I immediately stood to my feet, surrounded by my fellow parishioners sitting on their hands. There were a few others standing and to my surprise the rest of the congregation rose to their feet and sang. The Holy Spirit moved us.
But this isn't a post about a moment in church. This isn't a story about an Ebeneezer who doesn't get it and is shone the truth about the world. This is the story of the real reason for the season.
It actually began the day before. My good friend Ryan Russell gave me a thank you gift. I could write (and may write) an entire post about how amazing Ryan's company, Cohdoo, is and how those little things really make it an honor to work for him. The gift was Steve Jobs biography. I read a little of it that day and one quote stands out:
The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it.
He said that religion was at it's best when it emphasized spiritual experiences rather than received dogma. I think this is what is gnawing at me this time of year.
I believe the story of Jesus's birth are true. But I do not believe they are the truth about Jesus. When I celebrate a friend's birthday, yes I am celebrating their birth. But I am really celebrating their life. When I think about Jesus and his teachings in the bible, I celebrate His life. He was an amazing teacher. Studying the Bible never ceases to produce mind blowing realizations about every facet of life.
It was important (and still is I guess) that Jesus have a birthright. He was the king of kings. Prophets and wise men had to prove he was authentic. Kind of like the ancient version of insisting someone produce a long form birth certificate. The Nativity is an important part of it.
So, for all you non-believers and May-December Christians who get dragged to church for Christmas and Easter: Your missing out.
You're also making it worse for me. You're only seeing part of the story. Sure, it's exciting and those songs are easy sing but they don't really capture what it is to be Christian. It isn't why I worship God. It isn't why I follow Jesus.
I follow him because of his life.
I wanted to thank the folks who have commented and talked with me about this post over the last few days. Especially, my wife Amy. I can't emphasize enough that last Sunday was a profound moment for me. It was a spiritual epiphany.
It left me with a new appreciation for the story of nativity and only deepened my understanding of Jesus's story. While O Come Emanuel isn't my favorite Christmas song, you'll find me listening a little closer to it next Sunday.