A note from the Nerdcore Theologian:
The next few weeks, I’ll be doing a sermon series on and encouraging my church to participate in the Advent Conspiracy. I’ll tell you more in my sermon, but I want to take a little time to give you, o dear readers, a chance to do your own research. I’m basing it on this book:
And I’ll be using some of the resources from this site:
If you want to join in, you are more than welcome! And thanks to everyone who reads these sermons. I really do appreciate it.
Common English Bible (CEB)
33 Pilate went back into the palace. He summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?”
35 Pilate responded, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.”
37 “So you are a king?” Pilate said.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.”
How wonderful it is to share in worship together on a fine Sunday morning. How great it is that we can come together and share ourselves with one another in praise to God the creator, and in praise to our savior Jesus Christ, and to the sustaining grace of the Holy Spirit. How lucky we are to share in this community, openly and freely. And how fearful are we of the next 4 weeks leading up to December 25.
We’ve just gotten off the heels of Thanksgiving, a day set aside to spend with friends in family, sharing in our abundance with one another, and giving thanks for the many blessings that fill our lives. But the truth is, Thanksgiving is more and more an afterthought, an all-too-brief day of rest, before the free fall that is the Christmas season. Well, it’s not so much a free fall as it is a rocky, bumpy avalanche down the side of a steep hill. It’s really kind of ironic isn’t it? The one season of the year Christians wait in quiet anticipation of the coming of Christ, is the same time of year that we have the highest anxiety, isn’t it? It’s the same time of year that the volume on everything gets turned up, the world becomes so much busier, and our collective debt gets higher and higher, all combining into a whirling vortex of anxiety, leading up to a giant letdown once it’s all over.
But what if this year was different? What if we could reduce our anxiety, and increase our anticipation for the thing that’s coming that is truly life changing, and life giving? What if we could actually remember that Advent is a time not of spending, but of actually giving? What if we could make this time of year a truly worshipful and transformative experience? What if we could remember that when Christ came, he came for us all, and because of that, we should love all?
I know I’ve been through the Advent anxiety attack that happens every year. Running around, spending way more than I planned, and feeling empty after it’s all over… I honestly don’t want to do that one more year. I don’t. Which is why I want to tell you about the Advent Conspiracy. The Advent Conspiracy started when a group of churches got together and decided to not let Christmas be a time of anxiety anymore, but a time of holy anticipation. This conspiracy, which started with 5 churches, has grown to thousands, and I want to challenge this church to be a part of it.
Together, through the next few weeks through advent into Christmas, I want to lead us through 4 commitments. Just 4 simple ideas: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All. 4 ideas that I guarantee will turn this Christmas upside down. 4 ideas that will hopefully help us see the birth of Christ into the world in a new light—in fact, it will help us see the light in a new way.
This week, I want to focus on the first commitment: the commitment to Worship Fully. What we worship matters. What do we worship in Advent? The right answer, of course, is Jesus—but do we actually do it? Does the way we spend our time, money and energy testify that we worship God incarnate? Year after year, we who celebrate Christmas have learned to say the right things without allowing the words to reach our hearts. Simply saying that Jesus is who we worship, that Jesus is lord, that Jesus is King, doesn’t actually make it truthful, because saying the right things when they aren’t really lived out in our lives hinders true worship. In fact, it makes a mockery of worship.
Being able to worship fully demands that we take a good look at what we desire in our hearts. This is hard for adults. Not so much for kids. Kids! Direct question: what are you excited about for Christmas? What makes you most excited about Christmas? More than likely, if you ask a kid, you won’t get the doctrinally held answer—you will get something else. You probably won’t ever get the answer: “I’m excited for the mystery of the incarnation!” No. You will get: “I’m excited for the new Wii U I’m getting!” or “I’m excited for all the good food!” Or best of all, “I’m excited because I don’t have to go to school for a few weeks!” You see? I’m not saying those things aren’t intrinsically good thing—they are, of course! Who doesn’t like stuff? But that, I think, is kind of the problem—we get too much in the habit of looking at all the stuff we get at Christmas, without actually thinking about the holiday itself, and getting excited about the deep, spiritual, worshipful truth at its heart. More than that, that’s the way things have been for years and years.
The truth is, Christmas is a pagan holiday.
I would make the claim that at Christmas, we have taken on a rival god into our hearts. That god, of course, is consumerism. It’s the god we worship 6 days out of the week, maybe even 7. It’s the god that dangles false promises in front of us, promises of fulfillment, of happiness, as long as we offer our time and our money to it. My brothers and sisters, we all worship at the idol of consumerism, of capitalism.
As a country, we spend about 450 billion dollars during the holiday season, hoping—whether we will admit it or not—that the latest and greatest gift will fulfill us and those we give gifts to. We hope that if we get the perfect gift, or give the perfect gift, or throw the perfect Christmas party, we will find true happiness. And in the process, we wind up in more and more debt, if not actual debt than spiritual debt. And we do it every year. We get collective holiday amnesia, and we forget last year’s chaos and run headlong into this year’s chaos in the hopes that it will be different. Here’s a hint though; if you don’t change anything yourself, nothing will change. Insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Something has to give. And at the heart of it all is that we’re talking about the right God on Sunday and worshiping the wrong one every other day of the week. It’s idolatry, and we are all guilty of it in some way or another. So what we have to do then is re-focus our attention. We need to fully worship Christ the King.
Now, I’m not a fool. I know that this is not actually the first day of advent—it starts next week, technically. Today is actually Christ the King Sunday, in which we recognize the kingship and lordship of Christ. Honestly, if we’re going to talk about true worship, however, why not start with today, and with today’s lesson? It’s not a classical Advent passage—we usually think about this exchange between Pilate and Christ at Easter—but it is a potent message for us, especially if we really are going to say that we worship Christ. It’s a bookend of a passage, really: let’s start at the end, to start at the beginning.
Christ has been through a crooked trial at the high priests house. He’s been captured, and led to the royal governor, Pilate’s, palace. He’s been tossed in front of him, and Pilate, at first, is confused. He looks at him, and asks “What are you accusing this man of doing?” The priests, in turn, respond, “We wouldn’t have brought him if he hadn’t done any evil.” Pilate retorts, “Well, you know what? He’s your problem; judge him by your laws.” The priests at this point reveal their intent: “We would, but have no legal power to kill anyone.”
I imagine Pilate raised his eyebrows at this one. He turns to Jesus. He beckons the guards to bring Jesus into Pilate’s quarters, and he asks Jesus about what he has no doubt heard about this wandering healer and religious zealot. “So. Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus finds it in his best interest for some reason or other, and gets cheeky. Pro tip: if you are in custody, it’s probably not a good idea to lip off to the guy who could kill you, but I digress. He asks Pilate in return, “Are you asking this, or did someone tell you this is what I am?”
Pilate grows severe. He’s not putting up with this. “Do I look like a Jew to you?” Underneath that question, he’s basically saying, “Do I look like I give a flip about your little issues with the high priests?” He goes on. “It was your priests that, by the way, arrested you, and brought you to me so that I could put you to death.” It grows quiet for a second, just enough to let that thought sink in. “What have you done? What could you have possibly done to get them this angry at you?”
Let’s take a step back. I just want to remind you all that this is the Gospel of John, which means Jesus is probably at his most argumentative—he really does not care about the authorities, or anyone questioning his authority. So he lays it out to Pilate. “My kingdom isn’t from here. If it was, I’d have an army beating down the doors trying to rescue me. As it is, I don’t have that luxury. Therefore, my kingdom is not from here.”
Pilate counters, following his argument. “Ah, so you are a king?”
Jesus replies, “You say that I am. I was born into this world for one reason. That was to testify to the truth. If you want the truth, listen to me.”
And Pilate then speaks for every one of us: What is truth?
Jesus tells us that he was born into the world for one reason, and that was to testify, witness to the truth. It’s our turn now to ask of ourselves the question of Pilate: What is truth? Is the truth the truth that Christ tells us, the story of Jesus, that God God’s-self took on humanity and became human so that we might know the truth of salvation, so that the world would have light? The truth of the gospel, that God came into the world to rescue the oppressed, give good news to the poor, release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind? Or is it the truth we tell ourselves, that if we buy enough, worry enough, and exhaust ourselves enough, we’ll be happy? My brothers and sisters, I’m inclined to go with Jesus myself.
Advent is a season where love wins, peace reigns and a King is celebrated with each breath. Entering the story of Advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest. It begins and ends with Jesus. Worship is about recognizing who God is, what God has done, and continues to do in our lives. All of it has been done out of love, the most complete love we can even fathom, and then more than that. So how can we worship this God, who saw it a good thing to come among us broken, wounded people who are given to worshiping false gods?
The first thing we can do is to listen. God calls us to worship, not just on Sunday morning, but every day. Therefore, God calls us to listen to God’s word, and to the work he is putting us to do. What is that work though? Well, why wouldn’t it look like the work that Jesus did in his earthly ministry—caring for the poor, the forgotten, the hungry, the sick, and the oppressed? Why can’t Christmas be a time when justice flows like an ever-flowing stream, and we echo Mary’s song by lifting up the lowly?
Worship is something we do every day. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to challenge you to think about ways you can worship God that will have a real impact in the world. Think about the money you are spending on Christmas, and think about what that money could mean for people beyond your family. Think about all the money that is wasted each year. What if we spent 450 billion dollars on feeding the poor? On giving water to those with no access to water? To ending human slavery and human trafficking?
This church has done a tremendous job of partnering with Manna ministries, the local food bank that provides a good service for this community. Think about what you can do to give of your own abundance to care for those with nothing. This is just one way we can give, and it will be an ongoing opportunity for the rest of the season of Advent. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting other opportunities for giving as well. We’ll also have several special offerings for these opportunities as well.
This season is one that it’s easy to get caught up in worship of something other than Christ. You have it in your power to change that. You have it in your power to worship Christ fully this year. You have in your power to make a difference and join in a conspiracy that puts Christ front and center in your Christmas celebrations, not stuff. Jesus came to make things right, and to bring hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, and life to the dying. So are you ready to worship fully? Are you ready to join the conspiracy?