Remove not the old landmark… – Proverbs 23:10 (KJV)
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. – Jeremiah 6:16 (KJV)
If you watch television much at all today (which I am finding more and more I’m not), count the vast number of reality shows in existence about weddings. There are shows about buying wedding dresses, buying wedding dresses for women who are overweight, buying bridesmaids’ dresses, picking wedding venues, wedding competitions, and wedding caterers and ceremonies. We watch celebrities getting married, ordinary people getting married, politicians getting married, royalty getting married, fantasy weddings, wedding planners…did I forget anything? To be honest, I am tired of weddings on television. I don’t find them that interesting, nor do I find watching people discover ways to waste money that fascinating.
More and more, the world today seems to cling to its traditions and concepts. The interest people have in weddings is an echo of this same concept: family and friends gathering, dressing in one’s finest, sharing meals, celebrating the end of something old, and the beginning of something new. In those weddings lies something that connects people to their past, and also gives a hope for the future. The same lies in the things many people hold most dear about holiday time: they know the words of all the traditional songs (that are sometimes sung in the dark, without musical accompaniment, and no one needs the words to follow along), they gather with family and friends, get all dressed up, share meals, and are connected to holidays past, the memories of ones who have gone before, and remembrance of Christ’s birth as the start of the faith so many hold dear, right down to today.
People want to feel that things are familiar as we watch the world spin further and further away from the world we knew or grew up with. We want to remember simpler times and feel those times are possible again. I think we want to have this feeling in the church, as well as in the world. We want to remember our ancestors, sitting in a small church with a potbellied stove, singing the same songs people sing every year at Christmastime. They had less than we do now. They passed holiday times without many gifts, without a tree, some without ever shopping. They lived through the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, on rations so soldiers could fight. And yet, in the midst of what they did not have…they had something we don’t have today.
No matter how much we want it, the world we live in today is not ever going to be the world we grew up in. Good, bad, or indifferent, society is not what it was when we were kids. We can blame any host of things on that fact, but whatever we assign the cause to, the cause isn’t going to go away. We live in a world where shootings are an increasing norm, materialism has replaced faith – even in the church, and not just at Christmastime, but all year round, disgruntledness and rage are a part of daily life, people are impatient, and church is supposed to be a show, an entertainment factor. Gone are the days of going to church just to go, just to honor God, just to love the Lord. Gone, it would appear, are the times where we go to church just to sing His praise, see His glory, and rejoice in His love. Gone, it would seem, are the days of true faith.
…Or are they?
That familiarity, that feeling, that connection to Christianity throughout the ages that so many get from hymns and repeated traditions during the holidays do not have to be reserved for Christmas. We do not have to wait for Christmas to be grateful Jesus was born, nor do we have to reserve gratitude for the resurrection to Easter. Anytime we want to experience that connection, singing the songs of true faith and a time of true hope, we can get out the old hymnals and sing them. Our ancestors of the faith wrote beautiful songs, powerful songs, faithful songs that expressed their total trust and belief in God, suitable for every season and every occasion. Anytime any one of us wants to connect to the old ways and draw on that history, where the faithful cloud of witnesses joins with us on earth and heaven, we can sing those old songs, and realize we are a part of something older than we are. I have nothing against modern music trends in the church (I love Hillsongs, Robin Mark, Gateway Worship, etc. – much of the modern worship scene), using modern songs, modern Bible translations (I say it all the time – God doesn’t speak King James), or having an understanding of God that can be real to us today…but somewhere in all of this, I think we need to unplug our churches, unplug our music, and unplug our concepts. MTV’s “Unplugged” used to prove that behind loud, popular, aggressive music styles there was a true talent and true soul in what they did. What about the church today – can we do “Church Unplugged” and find purpose and soul in what we do? If today’s churches had to unplug their sound systems, light shows, and often rather aggressive styles…could they rely on the faith of now to echo that of our ancestors?
I am the first one to admit that our ancestors didn’t know everything. They were often superstitious and many were very unlearned. Let’s not think, however, that we are much better. Today people who call themselves Christians divine numbers and chase after false prophecies, despite the fact that there is plenty of knowledge and evidence to contradict such nonsense. Despite our ancestors’ realities, however, they had a power in their lives, something that can only be described as faith, as they forged the harshness of this world. They didn’t expect God to send them a new car or a million dollars; they just asked God to provide for their lives, while they worked hard. They didn’t whine all the time, about how hard this, that or something else was. They trusted God, not doctors, through illness. They didn’t rely on antidepressants to pull them out of their state of being. They didn’t treat prayer like a drug, running from person to person for a word like a common junkie. Everybody didn’t need a “word” all the time. Faith is what got them through life, and that was the beginning and ending of it. They might not have had it all together, but with God…they had what they needed.
We need to be more connected to our ancestors. We need to look to their experience, their courage under fire, their songs (even if we revolutionize them with a new sound), and their purpose. We need to stop relying on all the wrong things. Stop trying to divine God’s plans via numbers or figure out what will happen in the future year via predictions of false prophets. Stop thinking that God should just rescue you from your problems because you’re a believer and you’re not comfortable. God never promised that you would be comfortable in this life. Start seeking depth, rather than shallow pleasure, in this life. And stop trying to remove the old landmark from our faith. Stop trying to act like faith is this new thing that we just invented and start to recognize that there are things we need to learn from that old landmark instead of trying to throw it out.
Christmastime proves to me that there are still people looking for the “Old Paths.” God is calling us to return to the Old Landmark. Maybe we don’t do it every day of the year, maybe it’s not something we go to all the time, but it is something always available to us, anytime we seek it. Get out the old revival feel for Pentecost week. Have an old-fashioned revival once a month at your church. Get together for a group sing or a homecoming. Instead of relying on instruments, use the beauty of the human voice. Watch God move in that setting, in that powerful place, even if there are only a few there. God has always moved in the praises of His people, not a floor show. Watch God show up, show out…and speak in ways we never thought imaginable. To get there, however, we need ourselves a Silent Night.
One of these days, God is going to call us to His wedding feast, when Jesus returns. You know what? When Jesus returns, it’s going to be “Church Unplugged,” all over again. There won’t be amps and mixers in the new heavens and the new earth. All we will have are the victory praises of our voices, the promises of our faith, and yes, the ancestors from generations past, who rise up to sing the praises of God with songs from every era. We too can join in the song, right now…anytime we like…if we will simply unplug and join in the truth that transcends age to age.
(c) 2012 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.