Advent — 1

This Sunday, December 2, is the First Sunday of Advent. This week we’re preparing ourselves for that day—the Sunday of Hope.

 

Monday, November 26

Read: Matthew 1:23

Consider: Over the centuries, the Christian church has developed and handed down to us a beautiful gift. It’s what we call the “Christian Year” or the “Christian Calendar.” Through holidays, remembrances, feasts and fasts, this gift reminds us of the good news of Jesus Christ—year after year, and generation after generation. It was designed to teach us, and to help us teach our children and their children after them.

The Christian Calendar does not begin on January 1. It begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which brings the Season of Advent.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” It is a time for us to remember the Messiah’s First Advent and to look forward to his Second Advent when he will return to make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

The Season of Advent—which extends from this Sunday to Christmas Eve—is a time to reflect on our great need of a savior. We will recall the yearning of God’s people who cried out, “How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1). We’ll consider how pain and longing gave rise to hope. We will celebrate with gladness the great promise of Advent, yet we will be honest about the sin and oppression in ourselves and in our world. Therefore, we approach Advent with humility, submission and anticipation.

You may have been looking forward to this time of the year or you may have been dreading it. Depending on your circumstances, this may hold promise of being a time of great joy, great stress or even great sorrow. Wherever you find yourself and however this season finds you, let me encourage you to make this a time of great spiritual insight and renewal. Do your best to make time for reflection so that these days bring an increased spiritual awareness that “God is with us.”

While Advent is an ancient practice of our faith, it is needed now more than ever.

Pray: Ask the Lord to help you fix your gaze on the promise of “God with us” during this season. Pray that your walk with Christ will be enhanced as you grasp the depth of his love that was revealed to us at his arrival. And ask God to use you for his purposes in a special way.

 

Tuesday, November 27

Read: Matthew 12:14-21

Consider: One of the things that comes into focus for us at this time of the year, is the powerful manner in which the Old Testament foretells the coming—the advent—of The Anointed One. The nation of Israel looked for and longed for the coming of Messiah. Messiah would be the One who would right the wrongs of this world. The oppression of God’s people would end as the Chosen One would bring peace and justice.

In today’s reading, Matthew quotes a prophecy of Isaiah—one of many Old Testament messianic prophecies—and tells us it is fulfilled in Jesus. He is the one in whom “the nations will put their hope” (Matthew 12:21).

Isaiah and Matthew tell us that “he will proclaim justice to the nations” (Matthew 12:18). It is important for us to remember what the biblical writers meant by the word “justice.” Often, we think of justice as a harsh thing. We think of punitive justice — “you do the crime, you do the time.” But most of the time when the Bible speaks of justice, it refers to something quite different—not punitive justice, but restorative justice. The justice that the prophets proclaimed was the work of restoring God’s will to his creation—especially that part of creation made in his image. We’re called to bring justice to the poor and the oppressed. The child without resources deserves justice—deserves God’s people to supply that child’s needs. Jesus teaches that if we are his disciples, we will give justice to “the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46). I love the way Cornell West puts it when he says that “justice is what love looks like in public.”

As we enter the Advent Season, let’s remember that the promises of God are not simply for us as individuals. His promises are for the world. We are to be agents of God’s justice for those who suffer. Through our active love, we can show the hope of Immanuel to our world.

Immanuel—God is with us. And with him comes the justice of God.

Pray: Ask the Lord to teach us the meaning of justice in the weeks to come. Pray that we see the mercy that Jesus brought to the world and the mercy he wants to give the world every day through us.

 

Wednesday, November 28

Read: John 11:17-24

Consider: This is a remarkable account of resurrection. But it is not the story of one resurrection. We find three of them in this story.

If you are not familiar with this event, read John 11:1-44 and re-live the day that Jesus brought his friend, Lazarus, back from the grave. But today we’re listening in on the conversation between Jesus and Martha prior to the raising of Lazarus, which opens our understanding about something much larger than what happened that day.

In the depth of Martha’s grief and in her bewildered disappointment that Jesus arrived so late—too late to heal—Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again” (11:23). Martha’s response shows us the hope that had been passed down to her by the prophets and leaders of Israel.

“I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (11:24)

Isaiah had foretold the day when swords will be beaten into plowshares (2:4), when “the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard…no more” (65:19), when this earth will be made into “a new earth” (65:17) and when “they will neither harm nor destroy…for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (11:9).

Martha believed that. Martha believed that God would heal all wounds and restore all of creation. And we still believe in “the resurrection at the last day.”

For us grasp the Season of Advent, we must see Jesus’ first arrival in the context of his Second Advent. We believe that the One who came to us in Bethlehem will come again. We believe that God’s will for this earth is not to destroy it, but to resurrect it—or, as we saw yesterday, to restore it. And we believe the new earth—the new kingdom—began when God put on our humanity and came to be one of us that night in Bethlehem.

Two resurrections: Jesus raised Lazarus and promised a final resurrection yet to come. Tomorrow we’ll look at the third resurrection that we find in Jesus’ encounter with Martha.

Pray: “Lord, ‘the resurrection at the last day’ is almost too wonderful for me to believe. During this Advent Season help me to somehow embrace the hope you brought at your First Advent. And then empower me, by your Spirit, to participate in the preparation for your return when all things will be made new (Revelation 21:5).”

 

Thursday, November 29

Read: John 11:17-26

Consider: Yesterday we listened in on Jesus and Martha as he comforted her at the loss of her brother. There we saw two resurrections…

“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’” (11:23)

“Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’” (11:24)

Jesus was speaking about a resurrection that was imminent—one that would happen within the hour. Martha was speaking about a future event—one that had been anticipated for centuries. But then, Jesus bound them together in a manner that Martha could hardly comprehend…

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’” (11:25)

That is what we try to comprehend—to embrace—at Advent. God was in Christ, reconciling us and his entire creation (cosmos) to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Jesus brought this reconciliation by bringing resurrection.

So, when we see new life in the manger and new life emerging from the empty tomb, we see ourselves and our world in the three resurrections…

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Your resurrection and mine, described by Jesus when he told Martha, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (11:25-26). That eternal life began the day we opened our lives to new birth.

“…the resurrection at the last day” (11:24) when the “groaning creation” will be renewed (Romans 8:22).

The First Advent and the Second Advent cannot be understood apart from one another. These are not disparate pieces. They form one act of God, for Jesus is resurrection and Jesus is life.

That is why we cannot talk about Advent without talking about hope.

Pray: “Lord, you asked Martha if she believed that you are the resurrection. Help me to believe, with my faith and with my life. Today I will live in hope—no matter what I see or experience—because you are ‘the resurrection and the life.’

 

Friday, November 30

Read: Matthew 1:21-23

Consider: Two prophecies in two testaments, separated by centuries, give us the same promise. In a time of war and fear, Isaiah said that the Lord would reveal himself—would give a sign…

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us.’” (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23)

Centuries later, from a cave on the Island of Patmos, John saw a vision and declared…

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’” (Revelation 21:3)

It’s the same message. “God is with us”“God’s dwelling place is now among the people.” Both advents declare the same promise.

It is essential to see this, or we will not understand how we are to live in this present age. The kingdom of heaven is coming, but it is already here. Jesus will come again, but he has already arrived. In other words, today we get to live in the new kingdom even as we await it in its fullness.

I get to live by the new kingdom values today. Today I get to receive and give grace. Today I get to be filled with hope. Today I get to love my enemy. Today I get to reject the sword and embrace the cross. Today I get to lay down my life for Christ and for his world.

I don’t have to live by the old, tired values of the kingdoms of this world. That’s the freedom given to us by Christ’s arrival.

Pray: “Lord, your presence is a gift beyond my comprehension. And yet I can know your presence. What my mind cannot conceive, my spirit can receive. Thank you for the promise and reality of Immanuel—God with us. God with me.”

 

Saturday, December 1

Read: Luke 1:5-20

Consider: Luke opens his gospel with two stories that are similar, yet lead to very different circumstances. Both are accounts of angelic visits. Both contain the promise of a child. Both pregnancies defy explanation, and yet, both births take place. But with all the similarities, something is different.

Zechariah responded to his promise by asking, “How can I be sure of this?” (1:18). In the story that follows, the story that is the center of Advent, Mary responded to her promise by asking, “How will this be…?” (1:34).

It sounds like Zechariah and Mary are asking Gabriel the same question.  And yet, God’s messenger had two very different responses. It’s hard to know for sure, but it seems like Zechariah is looking for proof—looking for a guarantee. When he asked, “How can I be sure of this?” it sounds as though he was asking for a miraculous sign. As a matter of fact, he did get a miraculous sign. Be careful what you ask for.

Perhaps Mary’s question was one of process. It doesn’t sound like she was saying, “Prove it!” but that she was asking, “How will this transpire?” So, Gabriel explained to her the process…

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God… For nothing is impossible with God.” (1:35, 37)

Mary’s reply was profoundly simple. Without proof and without any guarantees, she was willing to trust the call of God.

“I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (1:38)

Is God’s call enough for us? Are we willing to submit our lives for God’s purposes based on that call? Or will we hold out to see if God will really deliver for us?

All of us want to know that our commitment to God will be rewarded. We want guarantees that we’ll be happy and fulfilled in following Christ. There are plenty of prosperity preachers out there who play on this desire and teach that wealth and health are guaranteed. But that’s a long way from the promise of Advent.

Advent is a time of recognizing our pain and brokenness. It is a time of waiting. And it is waiting that is secured in hope.

“But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:24-25)

Pray: “Lord, so often I want guarantees. I want to know that my commitment to you will bring me the things that I want. But today I repent of that kind of response to your call. Without proof or guarantees, I want to tell you that I am your servant. I’ll follow wherever you lead me.”

 

Sunday, December 2

Today is the First Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the Christian year. Today believers around the world will light one purple candle—the Candle of Hope.

As you prepare for worship today, ask the Lord to prepare your heart and mind for the days to come. Ask him to help you be aware of his presence in a special way during this season.

Let’s begin the season with hope. We all need hope for our day-to-day walk. But let’s put our needs into the larger context of Advent. Let’s also celebrate the hope for a new world—the world the prophets yearned to see…

“Marshal your troops now, city of troops,
    for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel’s ruler
    on the cheek with a rod.

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.

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son…

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.

And he will be our peace…” (Micah 5:1-5)