I attend a fair number of Christian conferences every year, and I often feel a bit out of my element in that environment. Not only are my peers typically a little more conservative in their theology than I am, they are also much more demonstrative when it comes to worship. I find myself standing awkwardly with my arms at my side or crossed over my chest, while most everyone else around me raises their hands heavenward, eyes closed, swaying passionately to the music. More recently I’ve taken to sitting in the back, where I can be my stoic, uptight self without anyone noticing.
I used to feel badly about my lack of passion during worship. I worried it reflected a lack of faith. Why don’t I get all emotional over Jesus? I wondered. I worried that acting like such a stuffed shirt meant I didn’t love God enough.
I’ve since realized that there’s no one right way to worship and celebrate God. What counts isn’t how we demonstrate our love God, but that we love God with our whole heart, mind and soul.
Let’s look at some of the people featured in the verses we read in church yesterday. When the shepherds heard the news about the birth of the Savior, they actively rejoiced, hurrying to the village to crowd into the manger. After witnessing the baby Jesus, they left immediately and began to spread the word, eager to tell everyone they encountered about this Good News. The shepherds put their faith and worship into motion – traveling, visiting and then verbally glorifying and praising God everywhere they went, even as they returned to their flocks.
Now compare that demonstrative reaction to Mary’s response. While the shepherds and other visitors crowded around her and the baby, praising, rejoicing and exclaiming over the astonishing news, Mary sat quietly amid the bustle, contemplating the amazing turn of events:
“All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.” (Luke 2:18-19)
The New International translation of these verses reads that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” She didn’t sing Halleluiah or exclaim Amen or even pray audibly, but that didn’t mean Mary didn’t rejoice over the birth of the Savior. She rejoiced differently than the shepherds; she quietly received the gift.
The very different ways Mary and the shepherds worshipped Jesus reminds me that praise and prayer come in many forms – boisterous and joyful, quiet and contemplative. There’s no right or wrong or even preferred way to worship. Faith takes all shapes and sizes. Faith takes all forms. God, I believe, desires that we be ourselves, the people he made us to be, and to love and worship him in our own unique, perfect way.
Questions for Reflection:
Have you ever participated in a worship service that was completely different from the kind you usually attend? Did it make you consider your faith or worship practices differently? Do you relate more to Mary or to the shepherds in these verses?
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