In the Lectionary

December 2, Advent 1C (Luke 21:25-36)

What will it take to break through our numbness?

Do we ever expect that something extraordinary will happen when we go to church for worship? We know the routine, right? We stand. We sing. We sit. We confess, pray, listen, and give. We eat. We leave, and come back and repeat. Given the predictability of public worship and the routinized nature of liturgy, the likelihood of worship becoming brittle, rote, or even mindless is great.

When we can no longer stand the well-worn regimen, we introduce new stuff. A praise team here; liturgical dancers there. Screens crawl down from our ceilings. Fog effects from dry ice machines and pulsating stage lights jar us to attention. We do what is necessary to keep up with the times, to hold on to eyes, ears, and bodies—often without sufficiently interrogating the reasons for our actions.

Our worship adjustments and innovations point to something beneath the cosmetic surface of technological tinkering and basic ecclesial home improvement. In the words of my Hebrew Bible professor, Jack Levison, we’re all trying to “break through the numbness.” We want to clear a path so that God’s work in the world through the church won’t be obstructed. We want divine encounters of the 21st-century kind to be easy and relatable, even fun, for those who come seeking God in our pews. As with Uzzah, who tries to catch the ark of the covenant so it won’t fall (2 Samuel 6:1–7), could it be that our desire to help God is the problem?