Advent — 3

This coming Sunday, December 16, is the Third Sunday of Advent — “Gaudete Sunday.” We’ll spend this week preparing ourselves to light the Candle of Joy.

 

Monday, December 10

Read: Matthew 1:18-25

Consider: In this brief, simple account of Messiah’s birth, we’re given two names by which we know God-in-the-flesh. He was given the name, “Jesus” (1:21, 25). That was not an unusual name when he was born. In fact, it’s common today. You probably know several men and boys with that name, for its Hebrew equivalent in English is “Joshua” and its Greek equivalent in English is “Jason.”

But the second name was unusual. It could only be given to this one child. It was the name “Immanuel”—which means, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23).

The last two letters of that name—el—was the Hebrew word for “God” (from Elohim). It appears in many names. Samuel, Joel, Ezekiel, Gabriel and many others include those letters to designate a person as a follower of God, a servant of God, a gift from God or a messenger of God.

But Immanuel is different. It means that the child who will be called by that name is the essence of God. The existence of that child means that God is with us. His presence is God’s presence. It speaks to the incarnation—the en-flesh-ment—of God in Jesus Christ.

We believe in the incarnation. But there is more. We believe in and practice incarnational living. What that means is that we—as the church and as individuals—are now called to incarnate the life of Jesus. He sent his Spirit to fill us, live in us and live through us. So, because of our existence, the world should still be able to say, “God is with us.”

Pray: Ask the Lord to show you what it means for his people to incarnate Jesus. More specifically, ask him to show you what it means for you to incarnate him—to allow him to live in and through your flesh this very day. Listen to discern how you can be the face of Christ, the embrace of Christ, the presence of Christ for the people you encounter today.

 

Tuesday, December 11

Read: Colossians 1:21-27

Consider: In today’s reading, we hear Paul speak of the church as Body of Christ. But first he described the Christ to us. This eloquent description of the Messiah is simply amazing.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (1:15-20).

It recalls the great Christology articulated by John…

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)

We must see the transcendent, eternal nature of the cosmic Christ to begin to grasp what happened in Bethlehem. The Christ “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

For four weeks every year, we take time to meditate, listen, and learn what that means. Of course, it’s too much for us to understand on an intellectual level, so Advent is a season for us to grasp Christ with our spirits—with the entirety of our lives.

As incredible as it is that the transcendent One descended to us, what is more amazing is the thing he did next. He incarnated himself in us, as described by Paul with one very simple phrase…

“…Christ in you, the hope of glory…” (Colossians 1:27)

Our belief in the incarnation is incomplete until we understand the concept of Christ in us. He came to this earth. He put on our humanity. He taught us. He suffered, died and rose again. And now the flesh that he puts on is our flesh. We—the Body of Christ—are the incarnation of Jesus to this world. It is not only our hope; it is the hope of the world.

Pray: Pray for yourself and for the entire Body of Christ. Pray that we allow the Spirit of Jesus Christ to fill us in such a manner that the world will see Christ as he is. He is our hope, our joy and our peace. Pray that our lives proclaim that to this hurting world.

 

Wednesday, December 12

Read: Isaiah 11:1-9

Consider: If you’ve been reading with us over these weeks that precede Christmas, you’ve noticed something common to the Old Testament prophecies we’ve considered. There is a hope for something that defies hope. There is a hope that the whole world will be changed by the coming of the Messiah.

The descriptions of this new world are amazing. There are images of children playing with lions and snakes without being harmed (Isaiah 11:6, 8). We are told that pain and suffering will cease (Isaiah 65:19) and peace will reign among the nations (Isaiah 2:4). We are told that…

“…the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9)

We often dismiss those images because they are just too difficult to believe. Other times we choose not to think about them because it seems to magnify the pain of the present moment. But if we are to truly face the meaning of Advent—the coming of the promised Messiah—we must deal with this marvelous and baffling thing called hope.

How is hope confronting you today? What is hope calling you to believe? And beyond that, what is hope calling you to do in and for the world around you?

Pray: Take some time today to embrace the joy that is intrinsic to hope. Ask God to reveal to you how you can live in hope this very day—in faith and in action. Then ask for his Spirit to empower that hope in you.

 

Thursday, December 13

Read: Romans 8:18-25

Consider: There is an image that Paul uses in this passage that says it all—groaning. We all know what it means to groan when the illnesses, stresses, grief and disappointments of this life close in on us. We’ve all heard the saying, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” In fact, most of us have probably said that at some point in time. Even the most optimistic and hopeful people among us can get worn down by life. Sometimes we groan with pain and suffering. Sometimes we groan from fatigue. We’re just tired.

But Paul adds another element to this concept. He not only says that “we ourselves…groan inwardly,” but he also states that “the whole creation has been groaning” (8:22-23).

Paul is pointing to the cosmic nature of salvation. He is speaking in the tradition of Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophets who spoke about that time when “the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard…no more” (Isaiah 65:19).

But there is one big difference between Isaiah and Paul. Isaiah was writing before the Messiah arrived. Paul was writing after the Promised One had come. Why do they both speak of the future when Jesus’ arrival happened in between the times of their writing?

There is an important concept that Christians need to understand—a concept we must keep before us on this journey. It’s what we call the present-coming Kingdom of God, or the now-not yet Kingdom.

It is not correct to only talk about God’s kingdom as a future happening. The King came to us! He came through the womb of a woman, was placed in a manger and taught us that now, “the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). When the King is here the kingdom is here!

But we also know that Messiah’s purpose has not yet been fully accomplished.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:22-24)

Pray: Ask God to help you today to grasp the present kingdom, while you hope for what is not seen. Perhaps you need clarification as to the nature of that hope—for what should you hope? Ask the Lord to teach you and guide you. Ask him how you become part of the hope for which the whole creation groans.

 

Friday, December 14

Read: Romans 8:22-25

Consider: Yesterday we talked about the image of groaning—our own groaning and the groaning of “the whole creation” (8:22). But there is something special—even wonderful—about this groaning. It is the groaning of expectation.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (8:22)

That one phrase — “as in the pains of childbirth” — changes everything. Of course, I’ve never given birth, but I’ve held the hand of my wife and sat beside the bed of my daughter as they endured the pain of childbirth. And I’ve discovered that, as intense as that pain must be, it is not the pain of despair. It is not the pain that brings death. It is the pain that brings life. It is the pain of hope. And, yes, it is the pain that brings joy.

We live between the first and second advents of our Messiah, Jesus the Christ. We live in the time of new birth. Yes, it can be excruciating, but our suffering is not the pain of despair. This new world that Christ is birthing is the new creation of the cosmos. It is for you and for me and for “the whole creation.”

Pray: Meditate on the pain and expectation that you or your loved ones have experienced while waiting for the birth of a child. Ask God to use that beautiful metaphor to help you grasp what God is up to in your life—even through excruciating days—and what God is up to in our world today. This cannot be comprehended on a cognitive level. It takes an openness of spirit to be led from despair to expectation, and to embrace hope that can even produce joy. Thank the Lord for his presence and purpose in your life.

 

Saturday, December 15

Read: Romans 8:22-25

Consider: Why are we looking at this passage three days in a row—particularly during Advent? Well, there is one more thing there that we need to hear to bring us to the peace and hope that leads to joy. It’s what Paul refers to as the “firstfruits.”

“…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies.” (8:23)

Christians believe in resurrection — “the redemption of our bodies.” We do not believe that someday we will be disembodied spirits floating on clouds. No, we believe in new, resurrected heavens, earth and bodies. So, we do not practice a religion based on ideas (although we possess a rich and beautiful theology). We have a faith that is based on events—the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We believe that resurrection will happen. For God promised, “I will create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17). But we also believe that resurrection has happened. That is the “firstfruits” that Paul was referring to—the resurrection of Jesus Christ when he defeated death, hell and the grave.

Yes, we live in a time of pain. But we also live in the light of the resurrection. We have the “firstfruits” of that resurrection. Therefore, we can grasp what it is that God is doing. We have hope in what he is doing because of what he has already done in history and what he has already done in us.

We also live with the deep satisfaction—and a keen awareness of our responsibility—that God is using us in his plan for his creation. We have the firstfruits. Therefore, what God is doing in and through us is part of what God has done and part of what he will do.

Pray: Don’t wait for Easter to rejoice in the resurrection. Praise God today for that reality. Meditate on, and thank God for, the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—God in the flesh. Ask him to show you how you can experience hope and resurrection in and through your life today.

 

Sunday, December 16

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” (gau-dé-te) is a Latin word which means “rejoice.”

The Advent Season has traditionally been a time of meditation, introspection, and even mourning and lament. It is the time to feel the weight of the question we hear in the Old Testament — “How long, O Lord, how long?”

Unlike our contemporary cultural celebration, the church has historically reserved songs of joy for Christmas Day and the days that follow and take us to Epiphany—the Twelve Days of Christmas. But, as we’ve discussed this week, expectation leads to hope and hope produces joy. So, in the wisdom of those who have gone before us, the church has designated this third Sunday of the season as a day to rejoice.

Today believers around the world will light two purple candles and one rose colored candle—the candles of hope, love and joy.

“The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.’” — Luke 2:10