Advent — 2

Monday, December 3

Read: Mark 1:14-15

Consider: During Advent we usually focus our reading of the New Testament on Matthew and Luke. Those two writers gave us the birth narratives. From them we learn about visions, angelic visits, Augustus’ census, shepherds and magi. We hear the songs of Mary, Zechariah and the angels. And we hear the simple, yet world changing, news that “She wrapped him in strips of cloth and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

None of that is found in Mark, and yet Mark does begin his gospel with a proclamation of the coming of the Christ. And an amazing proclamation it is. In fact, it is given to us by Jesus himself.

Even though it’s the second book in our New Testament, Mark’s gospel was the first one that was written. And if you’re reading a red-letter edition of the Bible—in which Jesus’ words are printed with red ink—a quick scan of the page shows you that the very first words of Jesus that Mark records are found in 1:15. So, the very first recorded words of Jesus that we possess are…

“The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near.”

What Jesus said in those opening words, he continued to say through his teaching, through his parables, through his living, through his miracles, through his death and through his resurrection. “It’s here! God’s new reign—his new kingdom—has arrived.”

If we simply celebrate Advent and Christmas as an event that happened, we miss the point. If we think of it as a great act God did for us, we only see part of the picture. But if we see it as the inauguration of a new world, we can begin to comprehend what God was doing, what he is doing, and what he is going to do.

Pray: We often thank God that he came to us in Christ, as we should. But let’s not only think about what has happened. Let’s focus on this very day. Today, let’s thank him that he is here. Celebrate “Immanuel”—with means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23). And make every effort to practice his presence throughout this day of Advent.

 

Tuesday, December 4

Read: Mark 1:14-15

Consider: Jesus said, “The time has come.”

There are two concepts of time in our New Testament with two distinct terms. In the original language of the New Testament, time was usually expressed as “chronos” and referred to linear or chronological time. It’s what we reference every day when we look at a clock or a calendar. “When do we have to be at the meeting?” “What day is the Christmas concert?” “Can you be here by seven o’clock?”

But that is not the term Jesus used as he proclaimed the coming of the new kingdom. Jesus said, “The kairos has come.” “Kairos” refers to the appointed time—the God-ordained time. Jesus wasn’t saying, “It’s Tuesday, I’m here.” He was telling us that the time God had chosen for the new world to meet our world had arrived. Eternity had entered time. The new kingdom came when the King arrived. It’s here!

Don’t miss this. If we only see the kingdom as a future event and not a present reality, we’ll miss so much of what God is doing right now. His kingdom is here. We can live in it today. And it is to be lived in us and through us.

How about your experience of Advent 2018? Is this simply a time on the calendar? Is it only about getting everything accomplished and celebrated before the 25th? Or could this be a kairos for you? Could this be a time that God has appointed to do a new work in you and through you?

Don’t let your chronos mess up your kairos. In other words, don’t let the clock or the calendar keep you from what God has chosen for you during this sacred season.

Pray: Take some time to meditate on Jesus’ proclamation that “The (appointed) time has come.” Ask him to make this a new day for you as you live in the reality of the new kingdom. And when you are confronted by news of terrorism, violence and hate—or when you feel overwhelmed by sorrow or grief—remind yourself that we are not alone. The King has already arrived. Immanuel—God is with us!

 

Wednesday, December 5

Read: Mark 1:14-20

Consider: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.” For the past two days, we’ve looked at this inaugural proclamation of the new kingdom, which is given to us by the King who has come to our world. And this King calls us to respond…

“Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15)

That’s a beautiful invitation. But people don’t generally warm up to the word, “repent.” Too often we see repentance simply in terms of sorrow for sin or even self-condemnation. Sorrow for sin (but not self-condemnation) is certainly part of repentance. But that is not how it is used here.

The original meaning for “repent” is to change one’s mind. Jesus was literally saying, “The time has come. A new kingdom is here. It’s time to change your mind—to change the way you see the world.”

Now when the New Testament speaks about the mind, it is referring to much more than the intellect. In our culture, we tend to see the mind in a rather narrow manner. But to the New Testament writers, the mind refers to our whole inner being. It includes things that come to our mind when we talk about our souls or our spirits. (Remember, we are to have “the mind of Christ”—1 Corinthians 2:16.)

So, Jesus’ proclamation of the new kingdom is a call to give ourselves fully to it. And that call is summed up in what Jesus said to his first disciples — “Come, follow me” (1:17).

“Follow me.” Leave your old life behind. Shed your biases, prejudices and politics that are based on the powers of this world. Drop the self-centered world view that holds your people and tribe to be better others. Re-locate the center of your world to something other than your needs and preferences. Stop searching for meaning in accomplishment and acquisition. Lose the cynicism that denies hope. Love without condition. Love like you’ve never loved before. “Follow me.”

Advent changes everything. And Jesus called that “good news” (1:15).

Pray: “Lord, it’s easy to regret the sins of my past, but that does not describe the repentance to which you call me. But this new vision—this new life—is beyond my power and ability. So today I choose to simply follow you. I choose to allow your Spirit to change me, work in me, and live through me. As I walk with you, teach me how to live the good news.”

 

Thursday, December 6

Read: Matthew 1:18-25

Consider: We’ve talked this week about the kairos as opposed to the chronos—the appointed time that supersedes chronological time. Have you noticed that at God-appointed times, God began a new phase of his plan by doing the impossible? And have you noticed that he repeatedly brought someone new into the picture through whom he would fulfill his perfect will? And have you noticed how many times it was a baby?

At the outset of the promise to bless all the nations of the world though the coming Messiah, God told Abraham that “about this time next year…Sarah your wife will have a son” (Genesis 18:10). “Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing” (18:11). In fact, when Sarah, who had never had a child, heard this, she laughed out loud. But God’s messenger asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). And God kept his promise with the birth of a son who was named “Isaac,” which means “laughter.”

Centuries later, a priest named Zechariah stood before the altar in the Temple and heard the same promise—a “barren” woman who, along with her husband, was “well along in years” (Luke 1:7) was going to have a son. And Zechariah’s response was like Sarah’s—not likely!

Of course, the fulfillment of God’s plan came to another woman with the promise of another impossible birth—a “virgin…will give birth to a son” (Matthew 1:23).

What humbles us at this time of the year, is the knowledge that our salvation, our intimacy with God, our joy, our peace—our very lives—are dependent on him and he is the one who initiated all of this. We can’t accomplish it. We don’t earn it. We simply receive it.

Advent is a time to remember the gift. “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Love entered the world and was freely given to us.

Sarah laughed. Zechariah asked for proof. Mary submitted herself to God’s will. But all of them were astounded that God would work like that in human history—in their histories. And we are equally amazed that God will perform his will in us and through us.

Pray: “Lord, may I never cease to be amazed at your grace. I am humbled and filled with gratitude that you initiated a relationship with me. Thank you for working in my history. No matter what I face this day, help me to carry the peace and joy of your presence with me.”

 

Friday, December 7

Read: Luke 1:39-56

Consider: Mary’s song, known to Christians everywhere as The Magnificat, is a full-throated praise to the God who has promised her a son. But this is not just any son. This son will bring down rulers from their thrones and lift of the humble (1:52). This son will perform “mighty deeds with his arm” and will fulfill God’s promise to Abraham’s children—and through them to all of creation (1:51, 54-55).

We often think of Mary as a shy, unassuming young lady. She may have been. But that is not the Mary we see as she boldly proclaims the intent of God through Jesus Christ. Here she is proclaiming the inversion of the social order. She is saying that God, through her son, will turn everything upside down.

The amazing thing about Mary’s song of worship is that she knows that she is now part of what God is going to do. She can worship fully because, when confronted with the call, she responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Real worship takes place when the life of the worshipper is totally given to God. Mary’s worship rings with truth, authenticity and authority because of her submission to God’s will for her life. We are also called to be part of what God has planned for his world. We are part of the grace that changes everything. When my life, my love, my past, my present, my future, my strengths, my weaknesses—my all—is given to him, I am part of this new work of God that upends the world as we know it.

Pray: Ask God to help you worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24) as a participant in the work God is now doing and the work he will continue to do.

 

Saturday, December 8

Read: Luke 1:46-55

Consider: Mary’s song is, in part, a prophecy. And like so many of God’s prophets, she presented her words in the past tense, as if these things had already taken place.

“He has performed mighty deeds…scattered those who are proud…brought down rulers…lifted up the humble…filled the hungry…sent the rich away empty…”

There is certainty in her words—great confidence in what her son would do. And for those in power, who were committed to maintaining the status quo so they could hang on to their power, this was not good news. Why, if Augustus would have heard those words, Mary would have been arrested for treason. It wasn’t safe to proclaim Jesus as Lord when the empire was saying “Caesar is Lord” (Acts 17:6-8).

But in the great turmoil of those months leading up to Jesus’ birth, the Holy Spirit had somehow taught Mary something about this baby in her womb. Somehow, she was beginning to understand what Isaiah meant when he said that “the government will be on his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6).

Now when you read Isaiah’s use of the word, “government,” don’t interpret it in the manner we use it today. He wasn’t speaking about a coercive state with Jesus at the helm. He was talking about the new “reign” of God in the hearts of people, which would transform our world.

Like Mary, Isaiah talked about this new “reign” or “kingdom” of God in the past tense, as well as the present and the future…

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…for to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

The new kingdom—it has happened, it is happening, and it will happen. Such is the reality of Advent.

Pray: “Lord, so often I am trapped in time. I regret the past or dread the future. But you are the God who was, who is, and who is to come (Revelation 1:8). Thank you that the kingdom you bring transcends time. Help me to live in eternity in this moment, filled with gratitude for your coming and your presence.”

 

Sunday, December 9

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. Today believers around the world will light two purple candles—the first is the Candle of Hope and today’s is the Candle of Love.

“There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan —

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.”

—   Isaiah 9:1-7