Christmas comes through worship. Luke’s Gospel opens with a priest worshipping in the Temple making the incense offering while the whole assembly prays. Mary will sing “my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” On that first Christmas Eve, worship comes not in the Temple but out in the fields, with shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, when suddenly the Heavenly Messenger appears preaching: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Suddenly a massive chorus of angels fills the night sky praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God dwells!” Luke paints a picture of joyous Christmas worship. Christmas comes as a call to worship! Our souls need to magnify our Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior! We made for worship.
Worship is the heart of the Christmas story in Luke. Luke begins his Gospel inside the Jerusalem Temple during evening worship as an aging childless Zechariah “was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty.” With thousands of lay priests they drew lots to see who got the privilege “to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense.” As Zechariah makes the incense offering, Luke notes “the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.” Luke’s Gospel begins with worship, priests, offerings, prayers, and the Temple.
Alone near the Holy of Holies Zechariah, dressed in the priesthood’s vestments, took and spread red-hot coals from the larger sacrificial altar onto the altar of incense, and lifting a heaping censor scattered the mixture of thirteen different finely ground balsam gums, resins, plant oils, leaves, and spices onto the glowing red coals. Fire ignited the finely grounded mix as aromatic smoke danced towards the heavens, drifting across the Temple’s ceiling filling the whole sacred space with wisps of cedar and cinnamon. Entranced within the act of offering Zechariah does not immediately notice the angel of the Lord, who normally stands in the very presence of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. Upon seeing the angel Zechariah trembles, but the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth”
Do you know joy and gladness? Does your soul rejoice? Are you worshipping the right things? The deepest joy comes through worship. If you read on you will see that Zechariah leaves his divine encounter unable to speak! Worship leaves him speechless. When did you last go silent in wonder and praise? What miracle takes your breath away? What answered prayer fills you with joy, gladness? Do you stand alone, silent before God, offering yourself to the Lord?
The scene shifts to a small town called Nazareth as Luke introduces Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph. The Angel speaks “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!” Angel simply means “messenger” and the heavenly messenger comes to deliver a sermon sharing God’s plan to save the world: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” Mary rightly questions the angel’s sermon asking “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel preaches, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you… For nothing will be impossible with God.” We preach something like that every week. God has a plan to save the world will join God in doing the impossible?
At Christmas, God calls and Mary responds? She comes down front during the closing song, publicly confessing her faith to herself, God, the messenger, and the world, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
How will we respond to God’s Christmas calling? Will our Christmas be about what unwrap, ,eat, and drink or will we join with Mary and Joseph offering ourselves to God’s plan to save the world- “here I am Lord, let it be with me according to your word”
Luke moves the setting again, as Mary travels to her Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zechariah home perhaps to find sanctuary. The greeting scene reminds me of Passing the Peace. When Mary greets Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s child leaps in her womb and filled with the Holy Spirit she loudly exclaims “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. How can it be that the mother of my Lord comes to visit me? When I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you child, for you believe the Word’s spoken to you by the Lord.” I imagine an unwed pregnant teenager standing before the church giving her unsettled life over to God, and out of the congregation comes a righteous older matriarch to stand alongside the shaky teen stroking her hair and whispering blessed reassurance. Elizabeth offers hope “Blessed are you child for believing that Nothing is impossible with God” Are you leaping for joy this Christmas? Perhaps you might experience lift by offering God’s hope to others. You might find joy and gladness by becoming a safe haven for those in need. You might unwrap rejoicing in affirming someone else’s spiritual potential!
Affirmed by Elizabeth’s faith, experiencing love and finding hope, Mary writes a song! She becomes a prophet! Will you sing with Mary “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,”? Are we singing the right songs? Are we worshipping God, who alone can tend to our souls? Or do we give our praise to false idols? Where do we take the highest of our highs? What do we praise? What do we worship? God Alone deserves our highest praise. Our souls are remade as we magnify God, our spirits rejoice when we dwell within God’s presence. Our souls hold a certain poetry. Our spirits long to magnify God, to sing, to write, to dance, or to sit in silent wonder. Children love to dance, sing, and make up new songs.
Luke takes us to the synagogue for worship, as Elizabeth and Zechariah prepare to circumcise and name their son. Well, actually the synagogue comes to the families’ home. Circumcision symbolized identity as a Jew, so on the eighth day the Rabbi, singers, and others came to bless and name the child. Our infant baptism is rooted in this belonging to God’s people before one can answer for oneself. During the naming service, still speechless nine months after his encounter in the Temple Zechariah’s mouth is opened and his tongue is freed.
What song is sufficient to express such joy? When does your soul sing out to God? What songs do you sing? Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah praises God singing “Blessed be the Lord for God redeems and has raised up a mighty savior for us… the dawn from on high is breaking, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace.” What song can contain your highest joy? Where do you rejoice without spiking the eggnog? Induced joy quickly flees! I fear we are not singing the right songs! “Here comes Santa Claus”, “Oh Christmas Tree”, or “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” can’t sustain a soul in a tough season or express the deepest joy of our living! When do our souls rejoice in Our Savior? When do our spirits magnifying the Lord? Why would our singing of “Rocky Top”, “On, On, U of K”, or “Yea Alabama” electrify us more than our carols? Are we singing the songs that lift our souls beyond our circumstances to dwell with in God’s faith, hope, and Love? Are we singing the right song? When do we magnify the Lord, when do we silently ponder salvation, grace and Christmas?
Luke’s second chapter begins with Christmas worship, not in the Temple but out in the fields, with shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, when suddenly the Angel appears, with heaven’s glory shining down on earth. The heavenly messenger preaches the Good News we share each week, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Suddenly a multitude, an army, a massive chorus fills the night sky, praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” On that Christmas Eve God unwraps heaven and shows us a picture of joyous worship. The shepherds will go to the manger and worship and return glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen
What are you singing? Are you praising God? If we do not lift our voices to God, if we make Christmas about something other than worship we will miss the joy, gladness, peace and goodwill that God longs to give us. Christmas is a call to worship! Joy will be found in the routine of worship, in praying for each other, in offering ourselves to God, in believing the word of God, in passing the peace, in allowing our souls to magnifying the Lord, in silent reverence, and loud praise to God.
So let me ask you a serious question this morning: what are you worshipping? To who or what do you sing your love songs? Who or what are you teaching your children to praise? You know the value of practice for band, school or sport, but do you hold a regular worship practice? Are we singing the right songs? We are made in the very image of God stamped with a divine imprint that is restless until we magnify the Lord acknowledging our Maker in silent wonder or loud praise! Four of the Ten Commandments deal with worship. Our souls need to rest in God, even lament with God and always magnify the Lord. You were made for worship and do not kid yourself, you will offer your highest praise to something. If offer your best to anything less than God you offer worship to false. Our souls somehow know when we offer our worship to idols of human achievement or skill and mute our rejoicing. If we fail to sing or sing our love songs to idols, we never find the divine joy, forgiveness, tender mercy, and gladness God imprinted within us! Our Creator deserves our best love songs! Our souls are remade as we magnify our savior.
Oh, if you long for Christmas joy- then let your soul rejoice in God, let your spirit magnify the Savior. Sing the right Christmas songs. Give life’s highest moments over to God in praise- carry the low to God in lament. Come let us worship the Lord. We are made for worship. Christmas comes through worship. Joy arises in worship. Come let us rejoice, for God has lavished love on us by lying in the manger. Come magnify the Lord!