8 In the same country there were shepherds in the fields. They were watching their flocks of sheep at night. 9 The angel of the Lord came to them. The shining-greatness of the Lord shone around them. They were very much afraid. 10 The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. See! I bring you good news of great joy which is for all people. 11 Today, One Who saves from the punishment of sin has been born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. 12 There will be something special for you to see. This is the way you will know Him. You will find the Baby with cloth around Him, lying in a place where cattle are fed.”
13 At once many angels from heaven were seen, along with the angel, giving thanks to God. They were saying, 14 “Greatness and honor to our God in the highest heaven and peace on earth among men who please Him.”
15 The angels went from the shepherds back to heaven. The shepherds said to each other, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see what has happened. The Lord has told us about this.” 16 They went fast and found Mary and Joseph. They found the Baby lying in a place where cattle are fed.
– Luke 2:8-16 NLV
The second advent candle that we light this week symbolizes the Love of God and that of our love to Him…
A number of years ago, while ministering in a small rural community in Southern Minnesota, I had the privilege of being a part of a very encouraging and loving Ministerial Association. This was essentially a pastoral monthly “get together” to pray for one another and to fellowship. We all became good friends as we shared each other’s burdens and had the commonality of ministry. It was during one of these meetings that I was asked to fill in for a local pastor’s prison ministry while he was away.
Initially I was really nervous, I had never participated in a prison ministry let alone lead it and I wasn’t sure I had anything helpful to contribute. But I planned a message and selected some songs and went that next Sunday afternoon to correctional facility with guitar in hand. After a brief security check I was led into a common room where I waited for the inmates to arrive. The room was sparse except for a black metal music stand in the front and an ominous looking cross hanging on the wall. Two small windows were located on an institutional white wall, both windows barred and they only allowed a small amount of day light in.
I could feel the sadness of this place and was given a very small glimpse into what it must be like to be a prisoner here. When the inmates arrived I thought perhaps a guard or an official would lead or say a few words of introduction, but they did not. The guard simply left and I was all alone standing there amidst a sea of orange jumpsuits and staring faces.
I would like to say that I preached a powerfully moving message and that there were tears shed and it was like a Billy Graham revival service, but it was not. The songs were sung…mostly as a solo…the sermon preached…without any emotional response. It seemed as if I had preached to statues. I felt like a complete failure, as if what I had shared wasn’t what they needed to hear. Perhaps I had missed the mark and at the end of my time there I was escorted out and I left feeling defeated and somewhat sorry for myself. I remember saying to God, “well at least I tried” as I conjured up images of Jonah preparing to speak to the Ninevites.
For a number of months I put this Sunday afternoon in prison behind me and didn’t think much about it…until one day while in my office at the corps, a young man popped his head into my door. He told me he had been an inmate at the local correctional facility and that he had attended that Sunday service I had led. He told me that the message I had spoken seemed to have been directed at him and that he had felt convicted and had given his life to Jesus.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What I thought to be a complete and utter failure of an afternoon turned out to be just what God had intended for this young man.
Isn’t it interesting what we believe to be rubbish and consider to be failures God can take and use for the amazing, even the miraculous? Isn’t that what faith is after all? Stepping out in faith, doing our very best and trusting God knows what He is doing with our feeble attempts? You see God hasn’t called us to be the most eloquent of speakers, or the most insanely talented musicians playing moving music for Him…no, what He asks of us is our best effort, our trust and faith.
Last week we discussed the fact that God invites us into His amazing story of Salvation for the whole wide world, but you see there’s more to this invitation. There is element of worship. Our love poured out for Him, and sometimes our love poured out seems like feeble attempts and failed sermons preached. Then God comes along and shows you and me that the work of the Holy Spirit is living and active even in our doubts of success while participating in ministry. When we worship God and declare Him Lord of our lives, the sweet aroma and workings of the Holy Spirit go far beyond our finite efforts. We are merely conduits for the Eternal. He invites us into this worship experience and our part is to faithfully go despite our lack of confidence in our own gifts and abilities.
Like the Angels long ago declaring Jesus’ arrival to common Shepherds in the fields, we too are invited into this worship of declaration and praise.
Advent Questions to Ponder:
-When have you been asked by the Lord to step out in faith for Him?
What happened? How did you respond?
-Have you ever had moments of revelation in your life where you thought you had failed and yet God used your efforts and brought about an amazing, unexpected response?
How can you worship the Lord this Advent season and declare Jesus’ birth to those who have yet to hear?
What is stopping or preventing you from doing so?
Lord, help me to understand that it is not about my gifts and abilities, but it is about my love and adoration for You. Humble my heart and help me to declare your majesty and glory to those around me this week. Help me to invited others into this worship setting with You. I want to be used by You for Your Holy purpose this week. Guide me dear Lord. -Amen.