Hello there! I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I should get back online. Advent is one of my favorite times of year- the anticipation, the hope, the longing. This year I thought I’d write a devotional guide for Advent- and I’m already late in posting it, since we’re now in week 2. But they say, better late than never, so here’s week 2. If you like it and feel like you’ve got a hole in your heart without the first week, let me know and I’ll send you the first week. So… here it is- I hope that you might find it useful!
Sunday December 7, 2013
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
Ever find Jesus just a bit perplexing? Confusing at times? If so, you’re in good company—many have been confounded by Jesus. On the one hand, He fulfilled part of what we read here so beautifully. God’s Spirit flows from Him, dispensing stunning streams of power and wisdom, truth and love. Imagine what it was like to hear truth cascade from His lips, to watch grace and healing power set a leper free or unlock deafened ears. Picture Jesus placing His hand on your friend’s shoulder and with a word, giving her sight for the first time. Surely this was the One God had promised!
But then we read the rest of the prophesy- about dispensing justice and slaying the wicked. The parts about creation itself being restored to a kind of peace that the world hasn’t seen since Eden. Jesus hasn’t fulfilled that promise. Not yet. Thus the confusion. The disappointment, even. Which brings us squarely back to Advent– specifically, our place between 1st and 2nd Advents. Yes, Jesus is the One who was promised. He is our Answer. But, He is not yet finished. Yes, He fully accomplished our deliverance from the power of sin on the Cross. And yes, we can be fully confident in Him for what remains. But in the meantime… we wait. And hope. And keep on trusting.
Which aspects of Jesus’ first coming are you most grateful for today?
What parts of His 2nd Advent stir you most from today’s passage?
Talk about what it would be like for God’s Creation to be restored to it’s original intent- as it’s described in this passage.
Monday, December 8, 2013
Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. 13 It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’
Funny how we tend to divide up life into different quadrants—the sacred and the secular. Religion and politics. Keep them separate, we say, because we don’t want government overtaken by potentially dangerous ideologies. And in our fallen-ness, we are wise to be mistrustful of our own bent toward abusing almost any kind of power. But Jesus needs no such caution. He sits on a unique Throne- one on which He receives utmost worship and from which He dispenses true and perfect justice. Our great High Priest- who provides us unprecedented access to a Holy God. Our King above all Kings- who will make all wrongs right, all broken places whole again. One day, as J.R. R. Tolkien wrote, “Everything sad is going to come untrue!”
What worship will you offer Jesus today- in word, in action, through your life?
Talk about what it means to worship Jesus- to say (and live) what is true about Jesus.
Tuesday December 9, 2013
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
We sing about the “Little town of Bethlehem”, an inconsequential village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Noteworthy only for being King David’s ancient hometown, but that’s about it. Insignificant. Like so much around Jesus’ birth. Born to impoverished peasants who become refugees. Tucked in a feeding trough for smelly barn animals. Attended to only by scruffy shepherds from the margins of society and some foreign guests who can’t leave town fast enough. This is how our King puts His royalty on display in His arrival.
And by so doing, He reminds us what kind of King He really is. One who draws close to the broken, the poor, and the marginalized. The sort of King who identifies with those most easily overlooked and under-served. The kind of King this world needs most. And One who shows what real greatness really is.
Consider the humility of Jesus’ coming and His Kingship. What do you think Jesus would expect of us who seek to be like our King?
If you were the King of Everything, what would you think your life would be like? How does that compare with the way Jesus came and lived?
Wednesday, December 10, 2013
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. 6 “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.
Have you ever seen metal purified? A great deal of heat is required, melting the ore to liquid ooze. In this liquid state, the impurities rise to the surface, so that they can be scraped away and removed before the liquid cools and hardens once again. Such a great picture of the way God frequently works in our lives. He allows the “heat” to be turned up- through trials and challenges, and our impurities tend to pop right to the surface. Impatience, anger, self-pity, and rebellion, to name a few. The best time to address those? While the temperature is still hot, before things cool down and harden in place. So while we want the pain to pass as quickly as possible, God has a larger purpose in mind- purity and wholeness. That’s our King.
What “impurities” is God bringing to the surface of your life these days? How can you bring those before Jesus for His help and healing?
Talk about this picture of metal heating up. What are ways you notice God working in your life when things get “hot”?
Thursday, December 11, 2013
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
Lights are one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. They illuminate displays, decorate shopping centers, brighten homes. Lights can be colored, shaped, or made to paint a canvas of illuminated beauty. But light is more than decorative; light is fundamental. Essential. No light = no life. Without the light (and warmth) of the sun we would quickly die. Without light to guide us in the dark, we are hopelessly and endlessly lost. Light is… life.
John the Baptist was not the source of light, but rather one who pointed to it, directed attention to the Light. Jesus is not simply a source of light and direction, He IS Light. He IS Life. Personified and real. As necessary and fundamental as the air we breathe and the sun we see. So this holiday season, when your attention is drawn to light displays or the warmth of a candle, let your heart turn toward Jesus. Let His light shine into dark places of your heart for healing and wholeness. Allow His light to guide you to see clearly. Draw near to His light and simply sit with wonder and awe at Jesus, the Light of the world.
What aspects of the light of Jesus are you most in need of these days?
Turn off the lights and light a candle or flashlight and talk about how important and beautiful light is, and reflect on Jesus as the Light of the world.
Friday, December 12, 2013
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
On the night Jesus was born, shepherds were visited by angels proclaiming that God had come near- that a Savior had been born– Go and See! But part of this passage we tend to skip past is these words: “And the glory of the Lord shone around them…” What was that glory? God’s unique presence with the Israelites in the wilderness was displayed in a pillar of fire and cloud. God’s glory shone through Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration in dazzling light and brightness. Before Jesus, God’s glory had not been seen for hundreds of years because of His people’s sin and rebellion. But that night, out in the fields to a ragtag group of shepherds, God’s glory explodes in the night. In Jesus, God’s glory returned to earth.
To see Jesus was to see glory- “God’s glory, full of grace and truth.” The glory of God in human form, hidden in plain sight. Most people missed it, apparently looking for fireworks and a big show. I think we can easily miss it, too, looking for the spectacular. Advent calls us to simply draw near to a baby in a manger and eavesdrop on the murmurings of shepherds and freshly minted teenage parents. To peer in at an apparently helpless child and find there, along with others who have eyes to see, we are once again gazing upon the glory of God.
When you think of God’s glory, what comes to your mind? How can focusing on Jesus bring you closer to the glory of God?
Talk with your family about ways to be reminded to think about Jesus regularly during this time of year.
Saturday, December 13, 2013
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
Prepare the way for Jesus. What a job description! I don’t envy John the Baptist’s task, do you? A lonely figure standing against the prevailing tides of empty religiosity and cultural accommodation. A strikingly contrasted lifestyle of simplicity and single-minded devotion. Beckoning, even pleading with people to turn away from lives of futility and self-service and return to the Lord. Challenging those cloaked in religion to reconsider whether they were truly seeking God or were simply keeping up appearances. Prophetic work isn’t easy, is it?
But our calling isn’t all that different, is it? Followers of Jesus are called to be a contrast community- displaying the truth and grace of our King in the midst of a world gone astray. We, too, are to look in the mirror and ask whether our faith is worn for appearances or is a genuine garment, consistent with our interior life. And what of simplicity and single-minded devotion- should these not mark our lives as well. Prophetic work is never easy, it’s true. But this, too, is part of our calling, and following in John’s footsteps will steer us clearly to point others- and ourselves, too- to Jesus.
What aspects of John’s prophetic calling and message do you need to imitate?
How can you be pointing others to Jesus more clearly this Advent?
Talk about what it’s like to do and say what is right, even when it might not be popular.