Advent Day 6: Highly Favored

Reading

Meditation

Speaking of angelic encounters, as if Zechariah’s encounter with God’s Archangel wasn’t enough, Gabriel shows up again a few months later to Mary.  Now, Mary is very different from Zechariah.  She’s a poor, unwed, nobody from a small town in the proverbial armpit of the Roman Empire.  From a worldly perspective, she couldn’t be less important.  Beggars in town would have had more say than Mary in the goings-on of village life, simply because they were male.
 
Yet, despite the reality of her situation, Gabriel, the Archangel of God, shows up and proclaims to her the reality of who she is in God’s sight.  “Greetings, you who are highly favored…” he says.  I can imagine that Mary was indeed a bit confused by this greeting.  No doubt she knew her place in society, getting married was most likely her best hope for being provided for and having a decent life.
 
Into that “hope,” God introduces a plan that might not only ruin her chances of getting married but would certainly ostracize her from the community that she lives in.  The worldly logistics of this are, to say the least, a bit much, but what is impossible for man, however, is absolutely possible with God.  In fact, Gabriel’s response to Mary, particularly in verse 37, is strangely reminiscent of God’s words to Abraham  and Sarah in Genesis 18, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
 
Imagine getting a message like this in your own life.  God essentially blows up any chance that Mary has to be normal by the world’s standards.  Isn’t this similar, though, to the call of God in Romans 12?  Paul doesn’t offer the opportunity for a “normal” life by the world’s standards.  Cultural norms and worldly success, at any time and in any age, aren’t what the believer is called to.  Rather, Christ-followers are called to a life surrendered to Him, “living sacrifices” that are transformed by the mercies of God and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.  Mary, like us, is invited into a life that is wholly different and fully surrendered.
 

 Prayer

Transforming God,
As You called Mary on a road and a journey that you had prepared for her,
You also call us to a transformed life, one that is different from the world around us.
We see Mary’s willingness to follow and desire to follow you with the same courage and boldness.
Help us, in this season of Advent, to listen to the Spirit’s prompting,
 and show us the places where complacency and comfort are inhibiting the mission you have for us.
Remind us that you have given us Your Holy Spirit to live as salt and light in the world.
Embolden us to live into the identity we have in Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
We pray this in His name,
Amen.
 


Advent Day 5: Are You Sure?

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Meditation

Zechariah’s angelic encounter is not necessarily unique in Scripture.  Many of the great people that God has chosen to work through in the Bible have an experience with an angelic messenger.  Abraham, Gideon, and Hezekiah are just a few.  Like those before him, Zechariah asks for a sign, something that can assure him of the angel’s words.  He is, unfortunately, in good company.
 
It is hard to blame Zechariah for his doubt.  Gabriel promises him and his wife something that, for them, seemed impossible.  They didn’t live in the age of fertility treatments, medical help, or even a basic understanding of why Elizabeth couldn’t have a child.  She likely faced questions and doubts about what she had done to fall into disfavor with God.  Little did she, or anyone around her, know what God had in mind.  Zechariah questioned the seemingly impossible; all of us can relate.
 
Now, not everyone that asks God for a sign in Scripture gets punished for it.  In fact, on more than one occasion, Scripture tells us that God actually gives a sign to show the person that He means business.  For Zechariah, however, the sign comes in a form that we would consider punishment: being mute.  However we want to look at it, though, it was a sign.  Certainly, the people around him would have known that something happened while he was in the Temple.
 
I wonder, as I write this, how I would have reacted to this angelic encounter.  Would I have been as quick to believe as I think Zechariah should have been?  How about you?  Without a doubt, encountering an angel is a big deal and it would take any one of us by surprise!  But the message that he brought, so incredible and seemingly impossible too.  Would we have questioned it?  Maybe ask for a sign ourselves?
 
In reality, this is often what we do.  We get a thought, a nudge, a notion of something that we should do.  Sometimes it big, sometimes small, but it often winds up outside of our comfort zone; often they are scary and even seem impossible for us to do on our own.  What happens inside you when God prompts you to do something outside the box?  Often, I find myself rationalizing why it wouldn’t be possible or why the time just isn’t right.
 
Christmas, however, is about believing the impossible.  God took on human flesh; the creator of the universe beginning as a single cell in a woman’s womb.  It’s really unfathomable if you give it much thought.  But it happened!  Not only that, God does this for the sake of us, to forgive us and reconcile us back to Him!  This is the time when we are invited again to believe in the one who makes unbelievable, seemingly impossible things reality.

Prayer

Amazing God,
From nothing You created everything,
You took on our flesh and form to redeem and save us.
When we were lost in darkness, without hope,
You entered in, shining a light into the darkness and illuminating our hope once again.
Rekindle our faith and hope through Your Holy Spirit,
that we may again shine Your light and share the amazing story of Your Son Jesus.
May those who hear this Good News be drawn into your love and your light.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 4: John the Baptist

Reading

Meditation

Icon of John the Baptist

Many consider John the Baptist to be the last of the Biblical prophets. Following a long line of prophets that began over 700 years before, John came preaching a message of repentance and preparation.   All four Gospels refer to him, and we know that He and Jesus, as well as their families, had a unique relationship.  His coming breaks what appears to be a time of silence from the Lord; over 400 years since the last words of the prophet Malachi.

 
Isaiah 40 records one of two Biblical prophecies concerning John’s coming and purpose:
“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.”
Malachi 3 echoes these words:
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.”
Both of these prophecies imply that John’s coming and the purpose for his ministry was to prepare the way for Jesus.  Yet we also see in the Malachi passage that this is ultimately accomplished by the Messiah Himself.  He “suddenly” comes into His temple, as if perhaps he arrived too soon or before preparations were complete.  Ultimately, though, this was true with other prophets as well, each of which proclaimed the Word of the Lord but saw their prophecies fulfilled only through Jesus.
 
Advent, as we have said, is a time of preparation and anticipation.  As with John the Baptist, we are called to prepare the way for the Lord in our own lives.  Perhaps reading this very post is part of the way that you are doing just that.  When we create space in our lives, God shows up and works in us.  The same can be true for those around us.  Though Jesus ultimately accomplishes the work, we can prepare the space.  This year, let’s be intentional about keeping Jesus at the forefront of our Christmas celebrations.  Centering everything on Him invites Jesus into the moments where we interact with friends and family that may be wandering far from God.

Prayer

Saving God,
Before even one of our days comes into being, you know everything about it.
You have prepared a way for us, gently guiding us along the path that you have laid out.
Help us so to create space for you in this Advent season,
that those who enter into these spaces may encounter You anew and experience the joy of Your presence.
Renew them and us through your Holy Spirit, that Your light may grow brighter in this dark world.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Your Son, the Light of the World, we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 3: Faithful Service

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 Meditation

For hundreds of years, the priests of Israel performed the ritual worship of God in the Temple.  In fact, despite being subject to the rule of several different world powers over the course of the six hundred years prior to Jesus coming and the destruction of the Temple of God, the priests were faithful in their service and worship.
 
Can you imagine the monotony?  Every day, all year round, going into the temple grounds to sacrifice, burn incense, pray, and hope.  Sometimes I think that this is something akin to what we experience in the doldrums of winter.  We continue to go to work, day in and day out, while the days themselves get shorter and colder.  While there are some high points, like holiday celebrations, most days just feel cold and dark.
 
Similarly, I think this can feel, for us, a lot like our normal worship experiences.  We show up faithfully to worship, serve in places of ministry, and do our Christian thing.  Salvation, hope, and future glory are things we hear about on a regular basis as well.  But, if we’re honest about things, from time to time it can feel pretty monotonous.
 
Yet, for Zechariah, there is a sudden and unexpected inbreaking of God his seemingly boring repetition.  In a space for worship, in the midst of faithful service, God hears the prayers of His people and shows up in a new and unexpected way!
 
It’s hard to imagine the shock and disbelief that Zechariah experienced at this moment.  Or… perhaps it isn’t.  Many of us go through the routine of our lives, trying to be faithful Christians and good people.  Most of us, like Zechariah, probably don’t expect to encounter God in any way, shape, or form.  Yet in the season of Advent, that is exactly what we should expect!
 
Advent is a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the Messiah to earth.  None of us would prepare for a party that no one is coming to.  That is, however, often how we treat this season leading up to Christmas.  We have space, created by church tradition, in which we are reminded to create space in our own lives for the coming of our Savior.  The question we must ask ourselves, though, is “are we creating that space?”  Do we wait expectantly in our faithful service for God to show up?  Or is this simply a season filled with a different kind of busy monotony?

 Prayer

Eternal God,
You have been with your people and your creation since the very beginning,
faithfully walking with us, even in times of darkness and silence when we wonder if you are there.
Reveal yourself to us anew this Advent season and help us to recognize where you are present in our lives,
so that we may be renewed with hope and joy, and may spread the good news of Your love for us,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 2: In Those Days

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Meditation

The Old Testament prophets spoke at length about the coming of the Messiah.  Like John, these prophets knew that they were playing a part in a much greater story of God’s love and work in the world.  These prophets lived in a time when the effects of sin were readily apparent in the rebellion of God’s people.  Times were tough, the people of Israel often found themselves in trouble with other rulers and foreign powers.  They worshiped idols and turned away from God’s law.  However, the prophets knew and spoke the promise of God that a “New Day” was coming.
 
God’s covenant promise, to be God to His people and to send a Savior to them, is renewed multiple times throughout the Old Testament.  From Noah to Abraham, Moses to David, God never abandoned His people.  No matter what they were going through, no matter how far they had wandered from Him, God never abandoned them.  The promise of a coming Messiah didn’t just include a physical change in their current environment but represented a fundamental transformation of the world and everything in it.
 
Jesus’ coming represents a new or rather renewed relationship between God and creation.  Whereas sin created a rift between God and His creation, one that cannot be traversed by anything or anyone from the created order, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection bridges that divide.  This restoration is the new day that the prophets speak of.
 
It is important to note that the prophets often refer to this “new day” in the past tense.  This voice, speaking of something as if they are remembering it, is purposeful.  The prophets are certain of the coming fulfillment of God’s promises.  In fact, they are so certain that they speak of it as though it has already happened.
 
Scripture invites us into this certainty as well.  Certainly, it is easy to prepare and anticipate Christ’s coming, something that has actually already happened.  However, we are also those that are awaiting a new day, the one in which Christ finally returns!  The voice of the prophets reminds us once again of the truth and reality of God’s promises.  If God has said it, it is as good as done!  As we wait, prepare, and anticipate the Christmas incarnation, let us also be mindful of the certainty of Christ’s return, renewing and grounding our hope in Him.

Prayer

Faithful God,
You have walked with your people through good times and bad, never leaving or forsaking them, 
and You remained true to your covenant promises despite their disobedience.
Remind us always of Your faithfulness and the hope that we have in You,
that in these busy days of preparation and celebration we may remain focused solely on Your Son Jesus.
Help us to firmly ground our hope in You, that we may shine forth Your light,
and that Your Name and love would be made known through us.
In Christ’s Name, we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 1: Another Beginning

Reading

Another Beginning

In the beginning was the Word

Meditation

The echoes of Genesis 1 and 2 reverberate throughout the beginning of the Gospel of John.  As he begins to write his account of the life and work of Jesus Christ, the very first point that is made is that there is something bigger going on here.  John isn’t simply writing a biography about some famous person.  He isn’t just recording historical events or even a new beginning.  The Apostle is not defining another beginning, as if prior events don’t matter.  Indeed, John picks up a story already being told, adding his words, thoughts, and observations to God’s story which is thousands of years in the making.
 
 John’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ life is quite different from the other Gospels.  Matthew and Luke record the dramatic story of newlyweds in an overcrowded town and seemingly inconvenient timing of a birth.  Mark jumps right into the ministry of a notably influential rabbi throughout the nation of Israel.  However, John makes sure, from the very beginning, that his readers know the scope and subject of his writing is none other than God Himself.
 
From the very beginning, John reveals the purpose of God as well.  The divine Word was in existence alongside God since before the beginning began.  This Word is responsible for the creation of all things.  He is the source of all life.  Though darkness may be part of the reality that we know, the Word is light and pierces that darkness with an unquenchable brightness.
 
Advent is a season of waiting, preparation, and expectation.  In this, we find ourselves looking forward to the arrival of Jesus on this earth once again.  John’s Gospel reminds us, however, that there is much more to this story.  We are not simply speaking of the birth of a great leader.  He is not just an influential teacher or a moral example.  Jesus is the God of the universe, eternal and all-powerful, coming to earth.  The trajectory of His earthly life has been set in motion since the moment sin entered the world.  And John reminds us, in no uncertain terms, what the point of Jesus’ life, and his writing is at the end of his Gospel.
 
John 20:31 – “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Prayer

Eternal God,
who has created all things and given them life through your Word,
and who stepped out of eternity, wrapping flesh around yourself for our sake,
grant that we may keep the narrative of your coming in perspective
that this Advent season for us a time of new beginning and awareness of your love and work.
In our reflections this season, may our hearts and lives be filled with joy,
that your light would shine out through us into the darkness of this world
so that all would know the love of your Son Jesus, the Word made flesh,
in whose name we pray, Amen.


Advent: Awaiting the Already

 
Every year, starting on December 1, Christians around the world begin to celebrate the season of Advent.  For those who follow the church year calendar, this is the beginning of the new year, taking ourselves back to the very beginning of the story of Salvation, and remembering again the strong work that God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
 
Waiting and expectation

Waiting and expectation for our coming Savior

The Christian calendar begins with a season of waiting and expectation.  We are reminded of all that happened in the beginning from creation, paradise, and perfect relationship to the shattering fall into sin and death that humanity is now subjected to.  At that moment, however, Adam and Eve are not left in darkness.  In the midst of the curse of sin, God speaks a promise: this is not the end.

 
So the great story of the Bible begins.  It is a story of revelation, covenant, and faithfulness that ultimately leads us to a small, overcrowded town.  A baby is born in an animal pen to a young woman.  His birth signals the beginning of the fulfillment of thousands of years of waiting and expectation.  This baby boy, whose origins are from ancient times as Scripture says, will undo the curse of sin and reunite God with His people.
 
Most of us know the story of Christmas.  Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men, angels singing, animals, and a manger.  There doesn’t seem to be much that is new here.  Yet each year we prepare, waiting as if it were happening again.  Why?
 
Advent literally means arrival or the process of arriving.  The season itself is a time of waiting and expectation, preparation with eager anticipation for the arrival of Jesus.  So how do we do this for something that is in the past?  By participating as if we are a part of the story. 
 
Because we are.
 
Christmas, Christ’s incarnation, His coming into this world, is not just a story. And it isn’t a story just about Him.  The story of Christ’s birth is a revelation of God’s love for us and God’s redemptive work in the world.  And it’s a story that God invites us into as well.  As Advent begins tomorrow, will you join us on a journey of waiting and expectation?  Each day we will prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus with a short passage and reflection.  I invite your comments as you reflect on what we read together!


Lent Reading BONUS Challenge: 2 Peter 3

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  We started with Mark, and now are reading Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read 2 Peter 3

Questions for Reflection:
1. What does Peter mean when he says “the last days”?  Do you think we are in these days now?  How does what Scripture says here about these “last days” impact how you think about the promises of God and live into them in your life?
2. Scripture gives a really important explanation as to why it seems as though Jesus is “taking a long time” to come back in verses 8 and 9.  How do you feel about this?  Keeping in mind the Great Commission of Jesus, what does that mean for us both as individuals and as a church?
3. Peter returns to a warning at the end of his letter to “be on your guard.”  What does he mean by this and how can we heed this warning in our lives as we follow Jesus?

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that we would indeed be on our guard against sin, false teachings, and the temptation to walk away from the faith.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would take advantage of the time that God has given us to follow the Great Commission, preach the Gospel, and make disciples.
Pray for the Hopkins Community, that the Holy Spirit would flow through this town, that the Kingdom of God would advance, and that many would come to know and trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading BONUS Challenge: 2 Peter 2

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  We started with Mark, and now are reading Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read 2 Peter 2

Questions for Reflection:
1. Scripture warns of false teaching and false teachers both past, present, and future.  Do you see such things happening today?  How can we best guard against false teachings in our lives?
2. Judgment and punishment for sins are not popular subjects in the world today.  How do you respond when you read these words of warning against false teachers and those living as “lawless?”  How could we find comfort in these words without giving into judgment or condemnation (which are realities reserved for the Lord)?
3. Peter gives an even stronger warning to those who know the truth of the Gospel and then re-enslave themselves to sin.  Why do you think this is?  How can we guard against this in our own lives?

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that you would continue to be filled with the love and knowledge of God and that the Holy Spirit would protect you from any false teachers or teachings.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would hold to the truth of God’s Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, preaching and teaching this truth in love.
Pray for the Hopkins Community, that false teachings and teachers would be exposed and that the light of God’s truth would shine into this community.
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading BONUS Challenge: 2 Peter 1

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  We started with Mark, and now are reading Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read 2 Peter 1

Questions for Reflection:
1. Scripture states that we have been given “everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge” of Jesus.  Do you think that way in your day to day life?  Where is this “knowledge” found?  How does this impact you?  What does Peter say our response should be?
2. What does it mean to “make every effort to confirm your calling and election”?  How do we do this?
3. Peter, like Paul in the book of Romans, reminds the believers he is writing to about the truth of the Gospel despite them already knowing and being “firmly established” in the truth.  Thinking about what we heard in Romans, and now here, what impact does this have on us and on the ministry of Hopkins Community Church?

Prayer

Pray for yourself, that God would continue to reveal Himself to you through the reading of Scripture and give you the hunger to continue to pursue Him through the practices cultivated in the last month.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would continually preach the Gospel, reminding believers of who they are in Christ and introducing those who don’t know Jesus to the love and grace of God.
Pray for the Hopkins Community, that the ministries of Hopkins Community Church would have an impact for the Gospel and the Kingdom of God in this community.
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10