Read Amos 5:21-27
I have been a pastor for worship for several churches in my career. One thing that has always been true: When it comes to high holy days, we ramp up the arts. It seems obvious that the major festivals – especially Christmas and Easter – deserve our best, artistic offerings of worship. It’s as though we want to give God the biggest possible “thank you” for His actions connected to these important days. (Either that, or we want to impress and entice unbelievers.)
Today’s passage in Amos 5 makes me wonder if we’re really on the right track, especially during Advent.
Israel’s religion was strong. The faith-centers were well funded. The music being made was probably at a never-before experienced cultural apex. Hey, if God is prospering us, attendance is great, and our arts expressions are excellent, surely God must be pleased, right?
A paraphrase of v.21-23 for our modern day has God saying through Amos … “I hate your big productions, as well as your pensive, ‘worshipful’ services. You’re taking big offerings, but they’re not for me, and I don’t want them. I choose to not even take notice. I prefer silence to your worship music, and I’m ignoring your massive bands and sound systems.” Is there any chance God feels this way about today’s contemporary, megachurch worship? Especially during the holidays, when so many of the people singing along don’t even believe?
But why, exactly, was God so against these services? Because the people were practicing injustice and unrighteousness (v.24). The familiar theme of Amos is repeated: The economics of the rich were oppressing the poor. In addition, their worship practices were filled with unholy influences. Sakkuth, Kaiwan, some images … very trendy, very inclusive, very fashion-forward, very worldly … and very much detested by the LORD. The next stop for these worshipers? Forced exile.
The heart of Advent is that we would prepare our hearts from the coming of Christ. If these Israelites had prepared themselves in light of Amos’ prophecies, they would have jettisoned their corrupted worship practices, and focused their attention on generously loving their neighbor as themselves. We ought to do the same thing. But it’s hard to focus on this kind of self-assessment and repentance when we crank up the Christmas music, go to special performances, gorge ourselves at parties and feasts, and spend hours in the temples built to the god Mammon (the malls).
My takeaway today? I need some silence this season. Time to truly consider the LORD, the call of His Word, and the needed preparations for His arrival. As the carol declares, “He makes the nations prove the glories of righteousness.” Before He does that by means of the nations, may He do that, by His Spirit, through His holy nation, the people of God. Might His righteousness roll like an ever-flowing stream from the lives of His church.
Then our songs shall truly be heard by the only audience that matters.