Article linked to post for December 25-27 and based on these Bible readings:
Titus 2:11-14, Hebrews 1:1-4
The old order changed, the new order came. And with the birth of Jesus, the whole basis of worship changed overnight.
The worship of Yahweh, the living God, was a privilege and a duty for the Jew, as one of God’s chosen people. There were rules to keep, rituals to observe and sacrifice for sin to be made. For Galileans, living far from Jerusalem beyond Samaria, there were festivals to attend when possible and that involved quite a journey. Only priests could enter the temple. Others were essentially spectators.
Now Jesus, the Son of God, long-heralded by prophets from Moses onwards, made His appearance not in a palace or in any kind of religious setting, but in a cave for animal shelter. The first to greet his arrival were not priests of a spacial caste or the good and the great from society. They were shepherds, short on social refinement as outdoor, independent types are wont to be. If all of Bethlehem had known of the magnitude of this event, no one would have thought for a moment of inviting shepherds to leave their sheep and worship. God was making a statement. Anyone could come to Him and know Him.
Hundreds of years before, Isaiah had an unusual ability to see far into the future and understand God’s plan and purpose. There would be disaster for the nation of Israel. Isaiah could already see that abandoning the covenant, the special agreement the Jews had with their God, was not going to play out well. There would be shame and exile — but also opportunity to learn and be renewed.
He speaks into the desolation and abandonment and prophesies:
“The Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be ‘married’.’Isaiah 62:4
The covenant blessings would flow again.
But the godly remnant needed to redouble their efforts in praying down to earth the purpose of God. It wouldn’t just happen because God always works in partnership. He waits till we get His plan and pray it in.
The exiles returning to their land needed to make another return — to worship. They needed to rebuild the temple and enter its gates:
“Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations. The Lord has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your Saviour comes!’”Isaiah 62:10
When the angelic host appeared to the shepherds out of the darkness of the night sky, the message was a version of “See, your Saviour comes!”
This is what the messenger angel said:
“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11
Then heavenly praise broke through the separation between heaven and earth and became visible:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”Luke 2:14
The messenger angels addressed the shepherds. We can imagine a certain emphasis being given to these fearful and unworthy-feeling ‘outdoor’ people. “I bring YOU good news [of] great joy for ALL the people… a Saviour has been born to YOU… He is [your] Messiah, [Your] Lord.”
(My words) “Now join with the outbreak of heavenly worship that is so powerful it breaks through from heaven to earth.”
The shepherds were not Gentiles. That dimension of the Good News being inclusive would follow. But they were socially and in terms of lifestyle and behaviour in the category of “all the people”. The intention of God, in calling for sincere worship from true worshippers, could not have been made more clearly.
By the time Paul was writing to the Christians in Rome — who were first known as Christians at around that time — “all the people” would have included more Gentiles than Jews. It was a big shift. The church started with Jewish converts who became convicted of who Jesus was and what he had done, as they received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, initially at Pentecost. Within a decade or two, as the mission extended, the Jewish Christians were in a minority and there were signs, e.g. in Galatia, that they felt threatened and were pushing back. But this worldwide move of God has continued among all kinds of people, to number billions today.
Paul wrote to Titus:
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people…Titus 2:11
And he went on with the call to worship God in the reality of Jesus, in two ways. This challenges our concept of what makes worship. There is no mention of gathering, of a worship order, of singing or reciting.
The first way of worship is distinctive living, upholding godly values in an awareness of the Lord who will return to:
“…a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good…”Titus 2:11 and 14
The Holy Spirit in us is our motivation to live and relate in a Christ-like way — and He is also our enabler. This is not striving but flowing with Him.
The second way of worship is our commitment as His disciples to keep on learning, keep on growing and keep on being renewed. It starts when we receive Jesus as Lord, joyfully receive His release from our sin and doubt and are born again:
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.Titus 3:5-6
Rebirth is a one-time experience (and the public celebration of that in baptism should also be a one-time action of witness by someone able to say a few words about why it is important to them to take that step). But the renewal the Holy Spirit works in us is from the inside out, and it is an ongoing series of upgrades.
The call to worship for us centres on who Jesus is and our receiving Him as Lord. Apart from knowing Jesus, our worship is an Old Testament kind of expression, passive rather than active. We will look to someone else to be the connection between us and God. Without a personal relationship, ritual is forced to try to fill the gap. Church will draw more on OT practice, with its temples and imagined sacrifices, rather than the NT reality of Jesus resurrected and present in the life of the Holy Spirit. We won’t presume to read the Bible for ourselves, but confine its reading to the context of liturgy with its many words and desire for ‘correct performance’.
The Lord, who died to give us life, so wants us to share that life by knowing Him in a personal, relating kind of way — worshipping as those who know they are loved, and have love to express and return. We don’t need to be very extrovert and noisy and we don’t need to throw away all sense of tradition and beauty.
We just need to be real, worshippers who express themselves joyfully to the Lord they adore in Spirit and in reality. This is the new order that the Father yearns for, and sent His Son to enable.