Mess of Pottage Blog

Luke's "Pro" Blog

What to Sing During Advent

Reaching people during Advent. How (especially during Advent) does the church reflect and embody Jesus’ mission to the lost?

Churches that refuse to sing Christmas carols until December 24 are in danger of being the only venue where such music is not sung during December. The church, therefore, becomes a place people may avoid, since the experience of hearing and singing this music is offered abundantly elsewhere.

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Majoring in the Majors

The color of your Advent candles doesn’t matter.┬áNope.

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Something Wonderful – Hallelujah

Somebody on Facebook pointed this out to me. I love it:

I especially like the interpretation of “forever and ever” about 2:05 in.

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“Lift up your eyes”

In college I learned about something scientists call “learned helplessness.” It was first described in dogs, but since I like dogs, I won’t describe those experiments.

Here’s what it’s like in humans. Researchers gave people a task requiring intense concentration. While they were working, they were occasionally interrupted by a distracting noise. Some of the people were given a control to stop the noise, others weren’t. When they tested them afterward, people who were able to control the noise were happier than those who weren’t. The people with no control had learned they were helpless to do anything about their situation, and were less happy because of it.

Unfortunately, the world is teeming with problems that we can’t fix. People are looking for work, and can’t find it. The economy is not what it ought to be, whether you look at the “Eurozone” or on Wall Street — or neighbors whose home is being foreclosed. Business leaders point at government, and politicians point at the other party. There may be some people with buttons to fix those problems, but I’m not one of them. In a lot of different areas of my life, I have “learned helplessness.” Perhaps you have, as well.

That’s the problem faced by some people in the Bible. Their situation was different than ours today, but they had the same problem: they had learned helplessness. This is what Isaiah said to them:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold … the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you. …
Lift up your eyes all around, and see.
  —Isaiah 60:1-4

The people had learned they were helpless to improve their situation. They had been conquered by a foreign nation and there wasn’t any button they could push to get un-conquered. They were helpless, but Isaiah reminded them that God was not helpless. If they looked around, they would see God’s salvation.

Christians see Isaiah’s prophecy as pointing to Jesus, the savior who is the “light of the world.” Jesus is still at work in the world, but we can miss it, because we have learned helplessness. So this Christmas season, make a point to “lift up your eyes all around and see” what God is doing. There are areas we may be helpless, but none where God is.

(This article originally appeared in the Hi-Desert Star.)

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The Church and Working Class Americans

Here’s an interesting finding, reported by LiveScience today:

In the 1980s, the researchers found, there was little difference in religious participation between high school- and college-educated whites. But by the 2000s, a gap appeared. Today, 46 percent of college-educated whites go to a church, synagogue or equivalent institution at least once a month, compared with 37 percent of high school-educated whites.

Whites without a high school diploma were the least likely to attend church in the 1970s and remain so today. In the 1970s, 38 percent attended church at least monthly. Today, only 23 percent do. (Blacks and Hispanics do not show the same declines.)

I wonder why this is. Are better-educated people more responsive to outreach? Do churches seek out and minister to better-educated people? And is there a difference between those questions? How can churches be more effective at communicating the gospel to people who aren’t as well educated?

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Prepare the Way of the Lord

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. –Isaiah 40:3

The church has two great joyous holidays: Easter and Christmas, the celebrations of our Lord’s Resurrection and his Incarnation. Both these two holidays follow a season of repentance and preparation. Lent precedes Easter, and Advent comes before Christmas.

Nobody seems to mind Lent. (They may not observe it, but very few people seem opposed to it.) Advent, on the other hand, is distinctly counter- cultural. The culture we live in is in a hurry to celebrate Christmas. People talk about “getting into the holiday spirit” and go from party to party munching cookies and drinking eggnog.

I used to think this was what made Advent so demanding. When the people around them are celebrating, even the best Christians don’t want to go through December moping. We don’t like to fast, but especially we don’t want to fast while our friends feast.

(To be frank, I’m not sure that fasting is the best witness. The gospel is supposed to be good news. When we sulk our way through Advent, the message we convey to non-Christians is that Christianity is like having Seasonal Affective Disorder — except it keeps going through the spring and summer.) As I think about these holidays, however, I see there is another problem with Advent, one it shares with Lent. Our observance of these seasons of preparation tend to be lopsided. We focus too much on our sin and brokenness.

(By “our sin” I mean mine. And yours. And everyone else’s. Part of what makes it so difficult to do the right thing is that we live in a fallen world. What made the good Samaritan good is that the man he stopped to help could have been a robber waiting to ambush anyone foolish enough to help.)

I’m not saying we should throw in the towel and go along with our culture’s desire for a ho-ho-ho holly-jolly Christmas. We have to pause and reflect on our sin long enough to remember why the birth of a savior is good news. We have to recognize that even the very best things we do are flawed, and most of what we do is worse. We have to remember that our problem is so severe that only God can fix it.

But that’s all. We don’t have to wallow in it. Once we have recognized the problem, we need to transition to hope.

Isaiah said to prepare the way of the Lord. Hope is part of preparation. You don’t straighten out highways unless you think someone’s going to use the road.

Repentance means “changing your mind.” But we don’t just change our mind about sin, and decide to avoid it. We also change our mind about God. We remember the things we’re so prone to forget about God: his love and mercy and most of all his faithfulness.

This Advent, let’s remember how we got into this mess. But let’s also remember who got us out. Let’s resolve to spend more time this season remembering our God who loves us and has acted in Christ to redeem us. And, by the way, have a Merry Christmas!

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