“God rescues his people and calls us into a life of holiness in order that we may have a living, personal relationship with him. . . . Salvation is not merely the forgiveness of sins. God’s goal for us is that, having been rescued from the bondage of sin, we might live daily in the glory of his presence and manifest his holy character.”
—John Oswalt, introduction to Exodus in the NLT Study Bible, 2nd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008).
The Jewish people have a practice of reading the book of Ruth during the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22), which takes place fifty days after Passover and commemorates God giving the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Festival of Weeks (or Shavuot) is also known as Pentecost. The people of God who gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 would have heard the story of Ruth.
Leviticus is one of the most underread and underappreciated books of the whole Bible. Pastors who choose a sermon text from Leviticus might expect their listeners’ eyes to glaze over as they anticipate a scholarly description of outdated laws pertaining to everything from mold and mildew to skin disease and bodily fluids. Leviticus also includes descriptions of violent and bloody sacrifices, thou-shalt-not rules on shellfish, and instructions for days set apart for special observance each week, month, and year.
One of my students decided to practice a new spiritual discipline: Rather than gazing down at his shoes, he would look up when walking the university halls and greet others walking by. He said this was difficult for him, even at a Christian institution, as he was shy and awkward. But this discipline, he discerned, would shape him to be more like Christ and maybe touch the heart of someone in need of friendly recognition. It’s a small thing, but our spirits are shaped by small things repeated over long periods of time, and he hoped this practice would shape his character for good.
Most churches celebrate the season of Advent. But for many pastors and worship committee members, this season can be a challenge. There are, it seems, only a limited number of ways to retell the Christmas story in a way that is fresh and insightful.
With this in mind, we decided to base our Advent worship on the theme of Christmas carols. It was a challenge to select just a handful of songs to focus on during the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, but we chose these five popular carols: