Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Isaiah's Dump Truck Christmas Ornament

This is my article which was published on the blog of "Weavings," a journal for the Christian spiritual life. To see the original post, see Isaiah's Dump Truck Christmas Ornament.

I wonder what the prophet Isaiah would put on his Christmas tree. I am thinking he’d have a dump truck Christmas ornament.

When I read Isaiah 40, I hear “Every Valley” from Handel’s Messiah resonate in my mind. How incredible that the prophet spoke words of longing for a Messiah using road construction images. He speaks of making a highway in the wilderness, making the path straight in the desert so that every valley is lifted up and every mountain is made low, the rough places made smooth. He beckons us to get out the tractor and the shovel and make a way for the coming of Christ.

In my tradition during Advent, we have a Chrismon tree with symbols of Christ on it in the sanctuary. Maybe we should have an Isaiah tree, too. It could have hardhats and shovels and bobcat ornaments. We could hang dump trucks and cement trucks from the branches, and let’s not forget the little leveling tools with the green bubbles in them. Those would be cute!

Advent is a time of clearing the way for Christ, the true WAY, to come. He yearns for a place in each of our hearts. He longs to bring love and justice to a broken world. We don’t have to go find Jesus or get our hearts right before him … these teachings are a remnant of many painful versions of ancient moralistic heresies. We don’t go get Christ, Christ comes to us in pure grace. That’s what the incarnation is all about. That’s what Christmas is all about.

Maybe road construction is what Advent is all about. We don’t drive to Jesus, but our part is to make space for him to come.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who serves as senior pastor of Saint Mark UMC in Birmingham, AL. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is found at .

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Spirituality of Waiting

This is my article that was published on the blog of "Weavings," a journal for the Christian spiritual life. To see the original post, see The Spirituality of Waiting.

We know that waiting is a difficult concept for us. Our culture demands fast food, fast cars, and fast answers. We are accustomed to having a world of information at our fingertips with laptops and smart phones. We expect pills that will immediately take the pain away. Simply put, we don’t like to wait.

I appreciate Advent for all sorts of reasons. I love the music, I love the missions, and I love the families that work and play together as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ!

But one of the main reasons I value Advent is that it puts us in touch with a deep spiritual reality that we too often neglect. The things of the Holy Spirit take time. Feasting on the Word is not a fast food meal, but an experience to be savored. Prayer is not a quick fix but an invitation to be changed from within over time. Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight but can be quite a journey. Feeling at home in a local church takes “making a home” there, building relationships that last. A deeper relationship with God is not something we can download instantaneously.

During Advent, we become people who get in touch with that part of ourselves that is empty for God. Advent is counter-cultural in a time when we expect instant results. I pray that this year, we prepare a manger of the heart for Christ to be born anew.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who serves as senior pastor of Saint Mark UMC in Birmingham, AL. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is found at

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Snow Globe Worship Experience

The past several days were very busy for me. I had a funeral come up to celebrate the life of a dear church member, I held a series of meetings related to staff, I went out of town for a championship football game, and I had a myriad of wonderful Christmas parties to attend over the weekend (when you are an extravert, Sunday School Christmas parties you are invited to are one of the best “perks” of being a pastor). The weekend culminated on Sunday, our arrival at the “first day of the week,” when we experienced the second Sunday of Advent with wonderful music, drama, and joyfulness.

I think the highlight of my worship time this week was not one of the three services (including the funeral) that I led yesterday. It was being led in worship by our awesome youth group last night, who had a youth-led worship experience in the youth center. They focused on finding calm and rest in the midst of a stressful time of year.

As I walked in, I felt as if I was walking into the calm of a snow globe. This was, after all, their intended effect. I loved the music of the youth praise band music. I loved the strings of lights, the snow globe worship backdrop on the screen, and the altar setting with candles next to the tree. The prayers were deep, the music was great, the readers and speakers were wonderful, and the thoughts shared were rich. Most of all, as a “professional worship leader,” it was wonderful to just kick back, relax, and be led by such a thought-provoking, restful, and faithfully planned worship time.

It truly got me in touch with the “silent night” I so desperately needed. Toward the end of our time together, the youth gave out snow globes as a worship gift, inviting us to find the peace of the Prince of Peace. They led some wonderful quiet prayer time, and I went away feeling refreshed and invigorated.

This morning, I spent some time turning over my snow globe again, watching the snow fall, and meditating on the scripture from Philippians 2 we were asked to take with us. I am so grateful for worship that is not only heart-felt, but also so faithful to the gospel call to step out of the chaos of consumerism and hyperactivity and into the calming sea of the life of God. Thank you so much, youth group!

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Journey of Advent Has Begun!

What is this “Advent” we have entered?

First of all, it’s not Christmas … yet. In the Western church, the season of Christmas (also called Christmastide) begins on Christmas Eve and lasts for twelve days, ending on January 6. The twelve days of Christmas did not start with the song … it was the other way around! I love to keep the Christmas lights up until January 6. I’m often the last holdout on the street where I live.

The time before Christmas is Advent, a season of preparation. This tradition is much older than contemporary cultural Christmas traditions. It’s not time to say “Merry Christmas” yet. Christians prepare for the birth of Jesus by remembering the longing of the Old Testament prophets for a Messiah. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “visit.” We keep in mind both “advents” of Christ, the first in Bethlehem, and the second which is yet to come.

Some people, as children, have Advent calendars, decorative paper displays with 25 little “windows,” one of which you can open each day of December leading up to Christmas. Some Advent calendars are made of wood and featuring 25 little boxes with treasures inside. Many families light the Advent wreath at home, not just at church, and this has always been a rich part of my family’s life. Last week I emailed the people of the church I serve a sample order for Advent worship and devotions in the home around the wreath.

If you’re from a tradition that is unfamiliar with Advent, I imagine that it’s odd to think of the weeks before Christmas as something more than Christmastime. There are things about Advent that you might find odd if you’re unfamiliar with it. The strangest might be the color scheme. We associate Christmas with the typical Christmas colors of red, green, and white. Advent, on the other hand, features purple (or dark blue). The purple color signifies royalty (purple was in ancient times the most expensive dye, associated with kings and queens). We are, indeed, longing for a king. Come, Lord Jesus.

Secular culture ignores Advent because there isn’t much money to be made there. I think, however, there are lots of good reasons for us to pay more attention to Advent. For one thing, we have deep longings for God to do a new thing in us. Get in touch with your yearning for Christ to be born in some new way in our broken world and in our broken hearts.