Advent — 4

This coming Sunday, December 23, is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We’ll spend this week preparing ourselves to light the Candle of Peace.

 

Monday, December 17

Read: 1 Peter 1:17-21

Consider: Peter teaches us to live our lives “as foreigners here” (1:17). This instruction has given us a title that many of us embrace. We call ourselves “resident aliens.”

Whenever I remember that I am a resident alien, I feel the sentiment expressed by the late Rich Mullins…

Nobody tells you when you get born here 
How much you’ll come to love it 
And how you’ll never belong here 
So I call you my country 
And I’ll be lonely for my home

Now let’s not get confused. Our home is not some faraway place. Our call is not to live on this earth wishing we were somewhere else—wishing that we could be done with our time here.

Now, of course, sometimes that is the case. I work with terminally ill people and most of the patients I serve have struggled for a long time. Often, they will share how tired they are and how ready they are for the next chapter. They’re not living in despair. They’re living in hope. And they’re ready for that hope to be fulfilled.

But most of us are not there yet. We’re glad to be on this earth and we want to make the most of it. We don’t want to simply survive. We want a life that is full of love and purpose and passion. We’re not longing for a home in the sky.

So again, our home is not some faraway place. Christ is our home. While we are planted on terra firma, we live in a new reality. The joy of this world is real because our values and purpose do not originate here.

Our model is the one who came from the eternal and inhabited time. He embraced our flesh and our humanity, being born of a woman to fully enter our reality. And the One who came in the flesh will one make our world his home, and in so doing, make it our home as well.

“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. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-5)

The breathtaking beauty of that statement can make us a little homesick. But while we yearn for that day, we realize that our call is not simply to hunker down until Christ renews his creation. As resident aliens, we have an attitude, an approach and a calling—a calling to make our home in the strange land in which we live today. And in so doing, we prepare for the coming of the One who will renew this world and make it his dwelling place.

Pray: “Lord, this Advent Season is our time of waiting, anticipating, yearning and hoping. Thank you that you have made us part of your work. Our hope is in our hearts, in our minds and in our hands. But ultimately our hope is in you. Thank you for loving your world so much.”

 

Tuesday, December 18

Read: John 1:1-3, 14

Consider: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The original language of the New Testament states that “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”

A tabernacle was a temporary dwelling, a tent of sorts that could be moved from place to place. That’s why we often translate John 1:14 to say that “he pitched his tent among us.” While the whole cosmos is Christ’s domain, the physical appearance of Jesus of Nazareth was given for a set time—an appointed time in an appointed place.

Yesterday we remembered that we are “resident aliens”—those who live among the kingdoms of this world, knowing our roots are not in this soil (1 Peter 1:17). In so doing, we are living like the One who pitched his tent among us.

We don’t pound our tent stakes too deep here. The kingdoms of this world are where we live, but their values are not our values. While we love the world as God created it and will one day renew it, we don’t fall in love with the ways of the earthly kingdoms. We are like our father, Abraham, of whom it was said…

“By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents…for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:9-10)

While we sojourn here, we also look forward to that city—what John called “the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2, 10). And like the One who came for an appointed time, we bring heaven to earth every day we travel this terrain with him.

The Christ was incarnated—made flesh—in our world. Then he filled us with his Spirit, so we could live his life in the flesh. We call that the Body of Christ. And we pitch our tent with him, dwelling in that body.

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for placing us here as your body. We’re humbled to think that we are Christ’s hands and feet on this planet. We are Christ’s arms that embrace a lonely, broken, wounded world. Help us to live as you did, knowing that we are working for a kingdom ‘whose architect and builder is God.’

 

Wednesday, December 19

Read: Luke 2:1-15

Consider: I hope you’ll read this passage repeatedly this week. There is so much there for us to grasp and so much there in which to rejoice. Today let’s look at the proclamation of the angels.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

That’s the traditional reading from the King James Version of the Bible. In the version used in these devotionals we read…

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (2:14, NIV)

We dare not take “those on whom his favor rests” to be exclusive in any way. One of the things that Jesus demolished in his teaching and in his confrontations with the first-century religious establishment was the sense that some are more deserving than others. The tribalism that excludes others is foreign to the message of the Messiah. As the angel proclaimed, this message of peace is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (2:10) — “his favor rests” on all of us.

The promise of the Old Testament was the promise of peace. The promise on the day Jesus was born was the promise of peace. Peace on earth is not some romantic notion that should simply give us warm feelings during the month of December. Peace on earth is not the delusion of simple-minded people who are naïve regarding the evil in our world. Peace on earth is a promise from God. And, as we see so often in scripture, his promise is our calling. We are called to be God’s agents of peace on earth.

Pray: The prayer of St. Francis…

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

 

Thursday, December 20

Read: Ephesians 2:11-18

Consider: In the Old Testament, the people who heard the messianic prophecies considered them to be promises given to the nation of Israel. They were. But there was more to those prophesies. When we look at the promise—the covenant—in its original form, as it was given to Abraham, we read that God told Abraham, “Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). The “offspring” refers to the nation out of which Jesus would come, and “all nations” includes you and me.

In today’s scripture reading, Paul describes the fulfillment of that promise as the peace that Messiah brings. Jesus brings peace to us individually by his death and resurrection—by the forgiveness of our sins and restoring us to a right relationship with God. But there is another peace that Jesus brings…

“His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:15-18)

No wonder Paul says…

“There is neither Jew nor Greek (gentile), slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

The peace proclaimed by the angels in Bethlehem means that the peace of Christ can rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15). But it also means that Christ came to break down the walls of hostility among the nations. He came to do what the angels promised—to bring peace on earth. And he taught us that we are emissaries of that good news.

I still believe in peace on earth. I hope you do, too.

Pray: Mediate on what Paul meant in Ephesians 2:14 when he said, “He himself is our peace.” Praise Jesus for that reality.

 

Friday, December 21

Read: Luke 2:8-20

Consider: We are so grateful to Luke for giving us the account of the shepherds who were tending their sheep outside of Bethlehem—the first ones to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth. Shepherds were not the elite of society. They were among the poor—those who struggled for their daily bread. This is an account, among many passages in the Bible, which signifies God’s special concern for the poor and the vulnerable. (Again, take note of Mary’s Song that we looked at last week, recorded in Luke 1:46-55.)

The Old Testament prophets spoke about justice. But remember, the term “justice” was used in the scriptures in a different manner than we usually use it today. In our culture, people often talk about punitive justice. But our Bible—our God—teaches restorative justice. Justice that brings mercy and grace to our world. Justice that treats everyone—particularly the disadvantaged—to the blessings and prosperity God wants for his people.

One of the great justice passages from the Old Testament is found in Amos 5:24…

“Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

The coming of the Messiah signified salvation, peace and justice. The night that changed the world was heralded to the poor of this world. And it was brought to us in the One who became poor for us.

Our New Testament (particularly Matthew 25) teaches us that if we want to see Jesus, we can find him in the lives of the vulnerable. We can see him in the eyes of the poor. And, the good news is that we can be the face of Jesus to those all around us who struggle in ways visible and invisible.

Christ is here. The reason most people don’t see him is that they’re looking for him in all the wrong places.

Pray: Thank God that the message is for everyone. Thank him that peace was proclaimed to ordinary shepherds. Christ did indeed bless the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). Ask him to give you the heart of those shepherds. Offer your life to be good news to the ordinary and the poor that you will encounter today.

 

Saturday, December 22

Read: Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Consider: We’ve talked this week about peace and we’ve talked about justice. But those are not separate realities. As Isaiah spoke about the coming Messiah, both are prominent in his prophecy.

“Of the increase 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…” (9:7)

Peace and restorative justice are inextricably intertwined. Without justice there is no peace. If you look at the most oppressed nations of this world you will find that they are filled with strife and violence.

Without peace there is no justice. Where there is war and violence, the innocent suffer. They are driven from their homes and wander the earth as refugees. They are deprived of basic necessities and human dignity. Children are orphaned and conscripted to fight. Civilians are killed, and women are raped.

But, why talk about these things? After all, aren’t they beyond our influence? Nations wage war and there is nothing we can do about it. Or is there?

When you believe that Jesus is the King of Kings, you also believe that he brought his kingdom to earth. The kingdom of God has come even though we still wait for it to come in its fullness. (We call it the “present/coming kingdom,” or the “now/not yet kingdom.”) We are charged—and privileged—to be part of that kingdom. And because the kingdom of heaven spreads slowly and imperceptibly (Matthew 13:31-33), we have faith that our work counts. We are making a difference.

Every time we work for justice, we are working for peace. Every time we feed the hungry or watch out for the vulnerable and oppressed, we are advancing Christ’s kingdom of peace. This Christmas season when you give to the poor, volunteer in the church’s food pantry, visit a lonely person, embrace a hurting child, show grace to a troubled teenager or pray for peace, you are proclaiming with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” You are proclaiming it with your life. And you are preparing the way for the return of the Prince of Peace.

Pray: Thank God for the coming of the Prince of Peace. Praise him that he chose you to live Messiah’s message and proclaim his good news. Ask him to teach us—and to teach you—how to work for, and believe in, peace on earth.

 

Sunday, December 23

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Today believers around the world will light four candles. As we light again the candles of Hope, Love and Joy, we add to them The Candle of Peace.

“The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.”


“They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.”

— Isaiah 11:6-9, 2:4