Advent Day 16: Angel Choir

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For us, in western culture, the notion of a spiritual realm that we cannot see, but exists alongside our physical world is something that people struggle with.  There are many Biblical narratives that include both angelic and demonic activity.  We also read a great deal of fiction that involves a spiritual world.  Sadly, for many people, the great reality of God’s work in and through this invisible reality seems like just that: fiction.
 
We live in a world and a culture where, if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.  Though interestingly, many people still believe in ghosts and, loosely perhaps, in supernatural events.
 
Regardless of what people believe, however, the Bible paints a very clear picture of God’s “behind the scenes” work.  In fact, Scripture is clear that God is the creator and ruler of all things, visible and invisible.  And, while angelic encounters are certainly more of the exception than the norm, at this moment, God was pulling out all the stops.
 
As if to accent the point already made of the Savior being born in the village nearby, a whole host of angels suddenly appear.  One angel would probably have been enough.  An army of angels singing certainly drives the importance of this event home.  Part of me wishes that Luke would have recorded the additional responses of the Shepherds when the heavenly host appeared.  I can’t even imagine what this would be like.
 
These shepherds witnessed something that few people have ever seen.  When the curtain between the physical and spiritual words is pulled back, God’s glory is on full display.  We get a sense, here, of what that looks like too as we are invited into the angelic worship of God.
 
The Apostle John invites us into a greater understanding of this in the book of Revelation.  Around the throne of God, the angels are always worshiping.  We, too, are invited to come and worship Christ the risen King.  We join our voices with the angels when we worship God.

 Prayer

Almighty and Everlasting God,
Your holiness is beyond our comprehension and your greatness is more than words can express.
We glorify and worship you, the One and only True God.
As we read about the experience of the shepherds,
help us to recognize our own encounters with You in our lives.
Move us to prayer and worship in the name of Your Son Jesus,
and transform our hearts through those moments through Your Holy Spirit.
Thank You for the great gift You have given us.
May we never lose sight of Your love.
Amen.


Advent Day 15: Shepherds and Angels

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Meditation

One of the great ironies surrounding the narrative of Christ’s birth is the manner in which God announces the birth of His Son and the people to whom He announces it.  We have already considered Mary and Joseph, though in the bloodline of David, neither are royalty by human standards.  Mary, in particular, is visited by Gabriel, one of the Archangels that stands in the throne room of Heaven.  By all worldly standards, the truly appropriate people would be royalty, and the place a palace.
 
Instead, however, God has chosen to work through some of the “least of these” to bring about His plan of Salvation.  Following suit, God’s announcement on the night of Jesus’ birth comes to those we would least expect.  Shepherds were the lowest of the so-called “totem pole.”  These truly were the least of all people by human standards.  Dirty, cheating and untrustworthy were their titles.  Even this is ironic seeing as the people of Israel were settled away from the Egyptians, in the land of Goshen, because they were indeed Shepherds.
 
Despite their outcast status, God sends a host of heavenly angels to announce the birth of His Son specifically to them.  Though their appearance is certainly startling, their message of peace and the birth of the Messiah have impacted the world for generations.
 
Interestingly, God’s message to the shepherds is somewhat of a microcosm of His plan of Salvation.  We who are outcasts because of sin, hear the message of Salvation through the Gospel message.  When we hear this message, we encounter God in a very real way.  Though it may not be the light of angels piercing the darkness of night, our encounter is no less divine.  The question we all face, though, is: what are we going to do about it?

 Prayer

God of Love and Mercy,
You reach down into this world, into our lives,
pursuing us when we are far from You.
Even when we were Your enemies, You showed us Your love
by sending Your Son into this world as our Messiah.
We thank You for Gospel truth and for calling us to Yourself.
Help us, each day, to continually respond to Your love,
and to tell others about Jesus so that they may encounter Your love too.
Amen.


Advent Day 14: The Time Came

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I’ve often wondered in the narrative of Jesus’ birth, did Mary carry to full term?  We know that she was “great with child” as the old Scriptural language suggests, but what does that mean?  Was she late in her delivery or was she early?  We probably don’t get this much thought as we default to the “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger” songs of how perfect things were.
 
While this question seems relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, at its core, the question really has to do with how God actually brought about the birth of Jesus.  As we said yesterday, God’s timing is perfect.  So when the time comes for things to happen in our lives, God will make them happen.  Of this, we can be certain.  But I do have to wonder what would have happened if Mary and Joseph left a day or two later?
 
Granted, it probably wouldn’t have changed the date of our Christmas celebrations.  December 25 is widely considered not to be the date of Jesus’ birth.  Rather, it was a pagan holiday taken over by early Christians and turned into a celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
 
That said, when we boil this down to its roots, we are left to trust in God’s sovereignty over every situation.  Similar questions for the timing of Saul’s conversion, Peter’s vision of unclean animals, or even the call to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles in Acts are all valid.  They all address the same theme and have the same answer: God’s timing brings about God’s purposes according to God’s will.
 
Though we may think we know the right timing in the growing seasons of our lives, God knows better.  He has a purpose to bring about His will for us.  And let’s be honest, God’s good and perfect will is better than anything we could come up with.

 Prayer

Faithful God,
You cause the sun to rise and set and the seasons to change in their times.
All of creation is perfectly ordered by You and exists for You.
You grant us seasons of growth and seasons of rest as well.
As we journey through our lives, seeking to follow You,
help us to trust Your will for us.
Whether the road of our life is smooth or rocky,
may we know that You are faithfully there with us.
You never leave us or forsake us, You are our refuge and strength.
Thank You for your faithfulness.
In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.


Advent Day 13: Long Journey

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There are a lot of factoids that surround the Christmas story.  The Messiah was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, yet Joseph and Mary were natives of Nazareth.  Realistically, there was no reason at all for them to travel and certainly not during pregnancy.  It was even less likely that they would have chosen to travel so close to her birth.  So the timing of this decree by Caesar August was perfect timing as far as prophetic fulfillment is concerned.
 
Perfect timing; would we expect anything else from God though?
 
Bethlehem is a 33-hour walk from Nazareth, using today’s roadways.  Given Mary’s imminent birth, the hazardous travel conditions, and the renowned stubbornness of donkeys, it is not at all a stretch to imagine that this trip took three to five days.  If you are a woman reading this, can you imagine going through that pregnant?  It almost seems unfair to Mary to make her go through this just to fulfill a more than 500-year-old prophecy.
 
Sometimes the things that we go through in life don’t seem fair at the time.  Indeed, life is full of long and difficult journies as we see God working through our situations to mold, shape, and build us.  The proverbial roads of life that we travel are sometimes rough and we can be pretty stubborn when things don’t go our way.
 
Yet, in the midst of these difficult times, and especially on the other side of them, we see God’s work and promise fulfilled in our lives.  We may not have wanted to go; we might not have had any reason that we could see to endure.  God, however, can see the bigger picture and has a plan for each of us.
 
Had Joseph and Mary not gone to Bethlehem, a small part of the prophecy would not have been fulfilled.  It would have brought into question the whole person and purpose of Jesus.  Perhaps, in our long and difficult seasons of life, God is up to some important thing that He knows we just can’t live without either.  I’m sure Mary and Joseph’s journey required a lot of trust on their part.  We, too, need to trust the One who knows each second of our lives before they ever came to be.  His timing is always perfect.

Prayer

Sanctifying Lord,
We stand in awe of how You bring about each and every moment of the universe,
You know us and the plans You have for us.
In Scripture, You tell us those plans are to prosper us and give us hope and a future.
We confess that, more often than not, we are unwilling to trust You.
Instead, we hold onto control, thinking that we know better than You.
Help us to see where You are at work in our lives,
and to let go of our control, trusting You and Your plans for us.
Thank You for Jesus, and for the Holy Spirit that guides us.
May we listen for Your voice and follow Your leading,
Amen.


Advent Day 12: Holy Spirit Filled

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Remember Zechariah?  He was visited by an angel and left mute due to his unbelief at the angel’s message.  His wife, Elizabeth became pregnant and gave birth to the one we know as John the Baptist.  It wasn’t until Zechariah indicated what the boy’s name would be that his tongue was released.  At that moment, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophecies about the boy and God’s work in Him.
 
Though you probably know the whole of this story, there is something here that challenges us in our faith walk as well.  Many times we experience what God is doing in our lives and, as it comes to fruition, we keep quiet about it.  God is always working out His will in our lives and in the world.  How often do you see it and yet say nothing about it?  More than that, how often are you a part of God’s work and yet don’t even glorify or thank Him for what He has done?
 
For Zechariah, it is probably a bit more acute.  He wasn’t able to speak, experiencing a sort of “punishment” for his unbelief.  Yet, when his voice is returned, the first words are that of praise, thanksgiving, and prophecy.  Though you may not have lost your voice, the experience of God’s work is no less profound.  Why should we keep quiet?
 
Those of us who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit in us.  Scripture tells us to “not quench the Spirit…” and yet we do just that when we don’t speak of God’s work in our lives.  Especially in this season of Advent, as we anticipate the coming of Jesus, we should be shouting out praise to God for His loving action, sending His Son, on our behalf!

 Prayer

Almighty and merciful God,
You are continually at work in the world and in our lives.
We praise You for the amazing things You have done in us.
Most of all, we worship You in thankfulness for Your Son, Jesus Christ.
Give us eyes to see and recognize Your work in and around us,
and help us to be open in our acknowledgment of Your mighty acts,
so that those around us may see and glorify Your Name as well.
We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior,
Amen.
 


Advent Day 11: Song of Praise

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The song that Mary sings here is one of four that are recorded in the first two chapters of the book of Luke.  Mary’s song is commonly referred to as the “Magnificat” which is Latin for “glorifies.”  It is clear why this name is appropriate.
 
More than the appropriateness of the name, though, is the source of Mary’s content.  As she sings this hymn of praise, she pulls from the book of Psalm.  There are at least nine unique references to the Psalms in these verses.  Additionally, Mary references the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habbakuk, and several other Old Testament sources.
 
When we read this, even at face value, it is a beautiful song of praise and thanksgiving.  Looking deeper at the content, I am always amazed at how the young woman that society would have seen as an outcast, would know such beautiful Biblical content.  Certainly, this could have been a Holy Spirit inspired moment; we shouldn’t discount that.  However, we also should not discount Mary’s Biblical understanding here either.
 
Drawing from this, we can and should be challenged in our own Biblical studies.  We live in an age where the Bible is more accessible than it ever has been.  Yet for many Christians, particularly in North America, Biblical literacy is at it’s lowest point in since things like this were recorded.  We often find ourselves unsure of what to say, how to pray, and even what to sing.  Worship songs have become repetitive and shallow.
 
Mary’s prayer is rich and full, informed and directed by Scripture.  While God invites us to “come as we are,” the invitation of Scripture is also to a much fuller and richer life.  One way this happens is through time spent reading and meditating on God’s Word.  As you consider your journey through the season of Advent, and the potential of the coming New Year, what would it look like for you to intentionally increase the time you spend in God’s Word?

 Prayer

Loving God,
You call us to Yourself, even when we are still Your enemies.
You welcome us into your presence, inviting us to come as we are.
Yet, in Your acceptance of us, You also love us enough
to call us to deeper and more dynamic transformation.
You came that we may have abundant life
and You have given us Your Word to grow us and reveal Yourself to us.
Help us to prioritize Scripture in our lives.
Make us restless until we find our rest in You.
In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.


Advent Day 10: Friends and Family

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We often say that the holiday season, and particularly holiday celebrations are “all about family.”  What we look forward to more than most things on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even New Year’s day is spending it with our loved ones.  For some, this is blood relatives.  For others, we are talking about those that we have forged relationships with over time.  Whatever your definition, though, there seems to be certain safety and familiarity that comes with being around those we are closest to.
 
This was also true for Mary.  After her encounter with the angel Gabriel, her time explaining it to Joseph, and Joseph’s subsequent angelic encounter, Mary takes some time to get away with family.  Though we don’t know the specific relationship these women have, they certainly have some things in common.  Both are experiencing something miraculous in their lives in the form of their pregnancies.  Both have experienced divine activity in their lives and in the lives of their spouses as well.
 
We also don’t know why Mary went to see Zechariah and Elizabeth.  It is possible that she was encouraged to get away from her village for a while, being that she was pregnant out of wedlock.  Perhaps Mary had heard of Zechariah’s encounter with an angel during his Temple duties.  Regardless of the reason, Mary’s visit is confirmation for both women of the great things God is doing through their lives.
 
There is something beautiful about sharing in joyous moments with those we love.  Maybe this is what gives us such great memories of our loved ones during the holidays.  Particularly around Christmas, we share the “good news of great joy” as a common point of celebration.
 
Does your family take time to reflect on this?  Do you spend time celebrating the great things that are going on in each other’s lives?  How would your family gathering be different this year if you spent time rejoicing together over what God is doing in each person’s life?

 Prayer

Father God,
We can feel the excitement of Mary and Elizabeth as we read this passage today.
As we continue in our Advent journey, our hearts also fill with anticipation,
as we await the coming of our Lord once again.
Sometimes, however, we find our minds cluttered and clouded,
consumed by the things of the season and the worries of life.
Help us, as we gather together this holiday, to look at the great work that you are doing.
May our focus be shifted off of ourselves so that we may celebrate the joys and victories that others are experiencing,
and glorify you for all that you have done.
We pray this in the name of Jesus, through whom you have worked salvation for us, Amen.


Advent Day 9: Immanuel

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God sends Isaiah to give King Ahaz a sign in the midst of difficult times and struggles that he and the people of God are facing.  Ahaz had already gone looking for help in other world powers at the time, particularly the kingdom of Assyria.  In fact, at this moment, king Ahaz actually rejects seeking a sign from God.
 
Simply put, though, anyone’s rejection of God does not imply that God will reject them.  In fact, God gives Ahaz a double sign, one that will be fulfilled in the present context and one that finds its ultimate fulfillment in the birth of Jesus Christ.  God addresses Ahaz’s present needs and concerns.  Ultimately, though, God is pointing Ahaz to the more important work of Salvation that He is working toward.
 
Ultimately, the truest sense of this can be seen in the name given this baby boy, “Immanuel.”  While names these days have relatively little meaning, the Hebrew people were very particular about the names they chose.  In this case, God already indicates that the name will be Immanuel.
 
If you have been around church for any length of time, you have probably heard that “Immanuel” means “God with us.”  This name is a reference to the reality of God’s purposes of restoration of humanity’s relationship with Him.  In Genesis, we see God dwelling with Adam and Eve; in Exodus with His people in the Tabernacle.  Later, God’s dwelling is in the Temple.  However, after the Fall of Genesis 3, there is always a barrier, a divider that separates God from humanity.  The coming of this baby boy, foretold by Isaiah and born of Mary, heralds the removal of that barrier and the ultimate redemption of God’s people.

 Prayer

Restoring God,
We confess that, far too often, we look for help for ourselves in places and things other than you.
More than we care to admit, we try to control our own destinies,
thinking that our plans for ourselves are better than Your plans for us.
Thank you for never turning Your back on us,
even when we have turned our back on You.
Humble us Lord and gently lead us to reverent surrender of our lives,
that we may turn to you and know true peace and hope.
We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Advent Day 8: Fulfillment

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Life often seems random.  Events happening this way and that seeming meaningless, sometimes even unjust in the grand scheme of things.  We ask questions like “why do bad things happen to good people?”  Through it all, however, Scripture assures us time and time again that God is not only in control, but He is also actively working.
 
Mary’s visit from the angel Gabriel along with her subsequent pregnancy was not a random act of God either.  This had long since been planned, foretold many times by many people throughout Israel’s history.  Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah many times, most particularly in chapters seven and nine.   “The virgin shall be with child…” Isaiah says, prophesying about the coming of the Messiah some 600 or more years prior to Jesus’ arrival here on earth.
 
Not only is God at work at this moment, making sure that Mary is not left to fend for herself, but God is also actively working to bring to fulfillment everything that He has said He would do.  As we see throughout Scripture, God’s promises are sure, spoken as if they have already been fulfilled.
 
We look at this story in the midst of the greater narrative taking place at this time.  Knowing the end helps us see the purpose of the actions as they happen.  Yet, in our lives from day to day, this is not necessarily the case.  When we lose our job, fight with our spouse, or lose a friend, we cannot see the “why” behind the situation.  What we do know, however, is that God promises His faithfulness to us.  “I will never leave you or forsake you,” God says.  The psalmist echoes this in the beautiful words of Psalm 121.
 
As we consider the words we read here, let us also consider the actions that Joseph takes.  Sure, we may not be receiving angelic visits during the night that illuminate our understanding of the situations we are in.  We do, however, have God’s Holy Word close at hand, and we can find peace, comfort, and hope in the assurances of God there for any season of light.

 Prayer

Almighty God,
You sit enthroned in heaven holding the whole universe in the palm of your hand.
From Your throne, you rule over all things,
providing and sustaining them at all times.
You work out your will and purposes for the salvation of those who love you.
Help us to remember Your promises and trust in Your unfailing love.
Guide us to seek you in all circumstances, help us to follow in obedience.
May we always be listening to the voice of Your Holy Spirit,
even when we don’t understand the happenings of our lives.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.


Advent Day 7: Faithful Husband

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Yesterday, we saw that the actions of God to bring about the birth of Jesus through Mary left her in a vulnerable position socially and culturally.  As one who was betrothed, or engaged, her being found to be pregnant would have ruined their relationship.  The social implications wouldn’t have stopped with Mary either.  Both her family and potentially Joseph and his family would have been seen as suspicious through all of this.
 
While we do not get, from this story, all of the juicy details of gossip that probably went around town, what we do see very clearly here is God’s faithfulness in providing for Mary.  Joseph indeed discovered his wife to be was pregnant.  I’m sure Mary passionately tried to convince him of the story of her visitation by the angel Gabriel.  One has to admit though that, for even the strongest relationship, angelic visitation resulting in pregnancy is a bit of a stretch.
 
God, however, is not content to leave Mary to sort this out on her own.  He sends an angel to visit Joseph in a dream.  The angel relays the message and, as we’ll read tomorrow, convinces Joseph not to leave Mary.
 
Sometimes the Lord may sometimes call us to seemingly extreme things that may not be the most socially acceptable.  Even then, as we read here in Matthew, God makes a way for these things to happen.  As God said to Abraham, and reiterated to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
 
As the saying goes, “where there is a will, there is a way.”  How much more true is this when it is God’s will that is to be accomplished, both in Mary’s life and in ours?

 Prayer

Faithful God,
In you there is nothing that is impossible.
From nothing, You created everything,
out of death, You create life.
We confess that, far too often, we doubt your faithfulness.
We find ourselves worrying more about worldly image than committed obedience.
Help us to see and hear the places you are moving in our lives,
and the “impossible” things that you are calling us to.
Give us courage and strength to follow you into the unknown,
and bring the message of the Gospel with us as we go.
We pray this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.


Advent Day 6: Highly Favored

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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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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

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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

Reading

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.