In our book, Christmas Traditions (Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City), Linda and I tell the story of a special Christmas Sunday offertory at our church in Ohio. The 10-year-old daughter of a member couple brought her beginners' piano book to the platform, sat down at the baby grand, and in front of a thousand people, played the melody line of "Jesus Loves Me." The Down syndrome child finished the offertory with a wide smile. The audience rose to its feet, and wild applause filled the auditorium.
The church had been decorated beautifully. The choir was well rehearsed. The sermon had been prayerfully readied. But a melodic, familiar line from an age-old song, played by a child who struggled with beginning piano methods, made the greatest impression on the hearts of the worshipers that day. Her simple offering brought tears of joy to the crowd.
I wonder if we have thought about adding the simplest elements to our Advent season celebrations. In preparing our hearts for the extravagance of 21st-century worship, I wonder if we have included times for "beginner" expressions. I am all for offering our Savior the very best. But wouldn't it be helpful to remember that the Galilean offered His very best for the very least?
The Christ who molded the mountains told us not to forget the lilies. The Creator who spins the stars in orbit stopped to remember a sparrow and numbers the very hairs of our heads. Surely, we can pause during the season and remember the simplest things.
Let Nazarenes everywhere be reminded that the Person of our holiness message came from the humblest beginnings. In our accompaniment-track age, let's put some acoustic moments into our Advent season. What will they be? You know, those times when the simplest acts of worship win out over the most spectacular. You may not be able to recreate the impact of those memorable times, but you can provide a place where their sibling moments can blossom:
- Feature life-changing testimonies on Advent Sundays.
- Use a live telecast or video of Advent observances overseas from a Global Mission missionary.
- Have a child present a special song or offertory.
- Insert a quiet time into a service, asking the audience to reflect on some aspect of Advent.
- Explain the meaning of Advent in a brief PowerPoint presentation.
- Include a familiar Advent song in worship times.
Author Max Lucado imagined Gabriel's thoughts upon announcing the Messiah's name to Mary. "And what of this name - what was it - Jesus? Such a common name. Come on, even Gabriel has more punch to it than Jesus."1
Time and eternity will reveal the extravagant grace that came from that five-letter word.
Perhaps no other song has captured the subtle beauty of the Bethlehem scene like that song written on Christmas Eve in 1818. On short notice, Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber introduced a song written by Mohr that could be sung by children to the accompaniment of a solo guitar. The song was "Silent Night." Its message wafts over the strengths or weaknesses of its performers.
"Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace."
Stan A. Toler is a general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, November/December 2011
1. Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name, quoted in The Greatest Moments, published by Countryman, a division of Word Publishing, 1994, p. 9.