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Phoenix, AZ, United States

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent of Sabbath

As December winds down and as Christmas draws near I can't believe that 2010 is just around the corner. I don't recall a year that has been this eager to end. This morning I attended church and since that time I went home, made a little lunch and have been doing a little reading in the Westminster Confession of Faith as well as, looking through some of the Psalms. All this in an effort to keep the sabbath. Unfortunately, this is a rather foreign concept for me even though I have been a believer for sometime now. I think that somehow the sabbath though a significant part of the history of Christianity has been jettisoned along with a number of other significant traditions in the process of modernization or perhaps more specifically Americanization. For the most part I like millions of other self professing believers around the country dedicated a couple of hours at a church service and then rushed to a Rubios or IHOP to eat. This was followed by 12 or so hours of watching movies, hanging out, or otherwise carrying on with work. In other words, sabbath was just another day excepting the fact that I spent a couple hours at church singing songs and hearing a message. Recently, Katie and I have been attempting to learn about the sabbath, what it is scripturally and how it is that we can honor the Lord on this day. Luckily we have had a few friends who have been on a similar journey that have been pointing us in the right direction. The Westminster Confession states:
This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their wordly employments and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
A few of the corresponding scriptures are Exodus 20:8, Exodus 16:23-30, Exodus 31:15-17, and Isaiah 58:13 for those who might be inquiring. Anyway, as I have already mentioned it hasn't been easy to follow, that is, keeping the worship of God in the forefront of my mind, in my thoughts, in my words and my actions has proven to be quite difficult even for one day a week and I guess it reveals something about my life overall. If I am struggling to do this one day a week what might this reveal about the rest of my days?

Nevertheless, I think we are slowly learning. At first it felt a bit encumbering like rules tend to feel at initial glance. I was reading The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell last night and the first chapter was on Ancient Greece. Russell traces how Greek thought was an admixture of primitive science and religion. Moreover, he notes that as empiricism and rationality began to advance in that part of the world, it was met by an opposition of radical superstition as if the people were reverting (rather than progressing) as a result of the shift towards civility. In fact, some of the religious practices that were re-emerging were rather barbaric paralleling those of centuries before. Anyway, I've said all that to say that maybe it's pretty natural for people to revert in the face of challenges. More importantly though, I found that it was very easy to slip into the wrong mentality about the whole thing. For example, as I describe the sabbath day to others I find that they naturally tend towards asking about the things i can and cannot do. I did the same thing when I first started to hear about it, but that is to fall into a sort of legalism and to forget the heart of it all. The true question should be: "what can I do today to honor God?" as opposed to "what is it that I can get away with doing today?" Thus, I find as I have grown up for the most part without any concept of sabbath that I have a great deal to unlearn and learn.

I shared all this because as I spent today thinking about the sabbath (though quite against my natural inclination) I began to think also about Advent and the relationship between the two. It has become rather cliched now for Christians to shout that Christmas has been secularized. I have heard enough sermons about how it's better to say "Merry Christmas" than "Happy Holidays" to make me quite queasy. Yes, Christmas is not about shopping, santa, gift giving, egg nog, or mistletoe and I agree with all of this, but it seems strange that believers by in large don't seem very concerned over the sabbath. Strangely enough, although there is no command about celebrating Christmas, there are explicit and implicit directions regarding the sabbath. It seems that the sabbath has also been secularized only nobody seems to care much about it. It seems for the most part that Sunday has become a mere day off, opportunity for overtime, golf day, movie day, or IHOP day. In fact, the movies and restaurants are filled with happy church goers, in other words, we encourage that others work on the Lord's day. What is more, we spend it as a leisure day rather than a day of worship; we make it about us instead of Him and I guess as I look at everything Christmas has become, all the shiny lights, decorations, and all of the excess and as I think about how Christians have been fighting to "win back Christmas" I can't help but think that perhaps we are missing something here. Perhaps the secularization of Easter, Christmas, and the sabbath has as much to do with what we as believers have made of our lives as it does about non believers influencing culture. Perhaps that our society has lost the meaning of our precious occasions is only symptomatic of something more fundamental, namely the state of our hearts as the church. If we cannot maintain a day each week to focus on worship then how should we expect to maintain the proper attitude towards occasions like Advent. Further, if we as the church have lost the meaning of advent then what can we expect from secular culture?

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