Advent 2017: Watching for the Light
During the season of Advent we’re invited to seek the light of Christ, especially in the midst of darkness. We watch for the light as the prophets remind us the darkness will not overcome us. Throughout this Advent journey look for God’s light dispelling the darkness.
These next weeks use these Advent devotions to be attentive that we may truly see God’s loving presence within us and among as once again we await the coming of Christ to be born among us as we are watching for the Light.
Please enjoy these daily devotionals written by our congregation throughout the advent season.
Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, 6 “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”
7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?”
8 Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.”
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name.18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.
It’s an ugly scene. Jesus, just hours before his trial, death and resurrection, tells us the time is coming. Watch out that we are not deceived. He warns us there will be wars, and natural disasters, terror, torture, betrayal, and hatred. Jesus tells us he’ll give us our words of defense. Don’t give up, he cautions as we wait. He tells us to hold fast. In all honesty, for many of us, these days we are feeling deceived. Things are just looking pretty ugly. Lies, dishonesty, misconduct, and covering up stream out of high places. It may well get worse before it gets better. But, we hold fast to hope as we gather prayerfully with the words and wisdom Jesus gives us to usher in justice, healing and wholeness. We pray.
This Advent season, as we watch and wait to once again await the gift of Christ born into our hearts, minds and souls, surrounding us with his love, grace and mercy, how will you hold fast in prayer?
Let us pray:
God of love, fill our hearts and minds and souls with courage and faith to follow you with full intent. As we watch for the light of your coming, give us the words and wisdom to boldly speak out with healing help to remedy the problems and concerns before your people. Keep us holding fast to your everlasting light. Amen.
Thank you for the opportunity to offer this brief Advent Daily Devotional. Look for one every day in your inbox from various others who are offering reflections.
Readings: AM Psalm 1,2,3; PM Psalm 4 and 7; Amos 2:6-16; 2 Peter 1:1-11; Matthew 21:1-11
21 When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. 2 He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.” He sent them off right away. 4 Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, 5 Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.”[a] 6 The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.
8 Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord![b] Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. 11 The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Today’s gospel reading is a story we also hear on Palm Sunday. It describes the scene of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, humbly riding on a donkey – not quite the kind of king the people had envisioned. I wonder how many people missed the magnitude of the moment that day as Jesus rode through the streets. I think back to another scene of a humble young girl riding on a donkey in search of a place to give birth to that king. I think of the stillness of that moment in the stable where the only witnesses were animals. When I picture that night, it feels so still and calm with stars shining brightly in a dark sky. I don’t know if that’s exactly how it was, but that’s how I like to picture it, the way we sing of it in “O Holy Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
How often do we miss the presence of God because we’re looking only for the big, flashy moments? Sometimes those big moments come, but God is also in the still, quiet moments. Those quiet moments come without fanfare or fireworks. They don’t always announce themselves ahead of time. They often appear quietly and humbly. I find it in watching children play. I feel it in the warmth and love in the room as we all share in Communion each week. I see it in the kindness of people taking a meal to someone who’s hurting or overwhelmed with life. It’s all there to be seen and felt if we’re tuned in to the ordinary and the extraordinary.
Watch for God at work this Advent season. Where have you seen God in unexpected places?
Prayer: Loving God, thank you for always showing up. Open our eyes and hearts to see you at work. Help us to be grateful for your presence among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Readings: Matthew 21:12-22; Psalm 5, 6 (AM); Psalm 10, 11 (PM); Amos 3:1-11; 2 Peter 1:12-21
12 Then Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It’s written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you’ve made it a hideout for crooks.”
14 People who were blind and lame came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and legal experts saw the amazing things he was doing and the children shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were angry. 16 They said to Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”
“Yes,” he answered. “Haven’t you ever read, From the mouths of babies and infants you’ve arranged praise for yourself? ” 17 Then he left them and went out of the city to Bethany and spent the night there.
18 Early in the morning as Jesus was returning to the city, he was hungry. 19 He saw a fig tree along the road, but when he came to it, he found nothing except leaves. Then he said to it, “You’ll never again bear fruit!” The fig tree dried up at once.
20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree dry up so fast?” they asked.
21 Jesus responded, “I assure you that if you have faith and don’t doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree. You will even say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the lake.’ And it will happen.22 If you have faith, you will receive whatever you pray for.”
Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought out of the land of Egypt: 2 You only have I loved so deeply of all the families of the earth.
Therefore, I will punish you for all your wrongdoing. Will two people walk together unless they have agreed to do so? Does a lion roar in the forest when it has no prey? Does a young lion cry out from its den if it has caught nothing? Will a bird fall into a trap on the ground when there is no bait for it? Will a trap spring up from the ground when it has taken nothing? If a ram’s horn is blown in a city, won’t people tremble? If disaster falls on a city, is it the Lord who has done it? Surely the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. A lion has roared; who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy? Proclaim it to the palaces of Ashdod and to the palaces in the land of Egypt. Say, “Gather yourselves on Mount Samaria, and see the great turmoil in the city, and what violent deeds are inside it.” 10 They don’t know how to do right, says the Lord—those who store up violence and robbery in their palaces. 11 Therefore, the Lord my God proclaims: An enemy will surround the land; he will bring you down from your protected places, and your palaces will be robbed.
2 Peter 1:12-21
So I’ll keep reminding you about these things, although you already know them and stand secure in the truth you have. 13 I think it’s right that I keep stirring up your memory, as long as I’m alive. 14 After all, our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me that I am about to depart from this life.15 I’m eager for you always to remember these things after my death.
16 We didn’t repeat crafty myths when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary, we witnessed his majesty with our own eyes. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 In addition, we have a most reliable prophetic word, and you would do well to pay attention to it, just as you would to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Most important, you must know that no prophecy of scripture represents the prophet’s own understanding of things,21 because no prophecy ever came by human will. Instead, men and women led by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
In the time leading up toward Christmas, we are normally concerned with presents. We have to carefully pick out special presents for everyone on our list. Since it is a season of giving, we might help out with Hypothermia Shelter or Food for Thought. However, we need to make time for God. Jesus tells us to “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and to “give unto God what is God’s”. In this case, “Caesar” represents the material things in life. Despite the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, make time to pray, or even just to thank God for your blessings.
The readings tell stories of a loving, protector God, a God that brings us joy and helps us in our daily lives. With everything happening in the world right now, sometimes it is hard to imagine such a God. However, in this joyous season of Advent, and preparation for our savior’s birth, we are reminded that God is always there to protect us and lift us up, despite our sins.
Prayer: Loving God, we thank you for all that you do for us. Help us to know you and ourselves, and help us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.
Readings: Matthew 21:23-32; Psalm 119:1-24 (AM); Psalm 12, 13, 14 (PM); Amos 3:12-4:5; 2 Peter 3:1-10
When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority?”
24 Jesus replied, “I have a question for you. If you tell me the answer, I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. 25 Where did John get his authority to baptize? Did he get it from heaven or from humans?”
They argued among themselves, “If we say ‘from heaven,’ he’ll say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But we can’t say ‘from humans’ because we’re afraid of the crowd, since everyone thinks John was a prophet.” 27 Then they replied, “We don’t know.”
Jesus also said to them, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
29 “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.
30 “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.
31 “Which one of these two did his father’s will?”
They said, “The first one.”
Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. 32 For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.
The Lord proclaims: Just as the shepherd rescues two legs or the piece of an ear from the mouth of the lion, so will the people of Israel be rescued. Those who live in Samaria will escape with the corner of a bed, and those in Damascus with a piece of a couch. Hear this and speak against the house of Jacob, says the Lord God, the God of heavenly forces: 14 On the day I punish the crimes of Israel, I will also visit the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and will fall to the ground.
15 I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house; the houses of ivory will perish; the great houses will be swept away, says the Lord. Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on Mount Samaria, who cheat the weak, who crush the needy, ho say to their husbands, “Bring drinks, so we can get drunk!” The Lord God has solemnly promised by his holiness: The days are surely coming upon you, when they will take you away with hooks, even the last one of you with fishhooks. You will go out through the broken wall, each one after another; and you will be flung out into Harmon, says the Lord. Come to Bethel—and commit a crime; multiply crimes at Gilgal. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tenth-part gifts every three days.Offer a thanksgiving sacrifice of leavened bread, and publicize your gifts to the Lord; for so you love to do, people of Israel! says the Lord God.
2 Peter 3:1-10
My dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both letters to stir up your sincere understanding with a reminder. 2 I want you to recall what the holy prophets foretold as well as what the Lord and savior commanded through your apostles. 3 Most important, know this: in the last days scoffers will come, jeering, living by their own cravings, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? After all, nothing has changed—not since the beginning of creation, nor even since the ancestors died.”
5 But they fail to notice that, by God’s word, heaven and earth were formed long ago out of water and by means of water. 6 And it was through these that the world of that time was flooded and destroyed.7 But by the same word, heaven and earth are now held in reserve for fire, kept for the Judgment Day and destruction of ungodly people.
8 Don’t let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day.9 The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed.
Seek and you will find.
During this time of year I too often get caught up in the commercialization of the season. I leave the comfort of my home and hit the streets with one goal in mind–finding the perfect gift. I do not care if the traffic is bad, the stores are crowded or prices high, my goal is to find that gift and get back home. I am so caught up in shopping I do not see what God really wants me to see.
I fail see the homeless person sitting in the cold outside the store I just entered or the long lines outside the food pantry. I do not see those little miracles like a kind gesture, a smile or someone who just says thank you.
Even though I get caught up in my daily tasks, I have to remember–You Lord and Your teachings are the perfect gifts!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I ask that you help me to open my eyes fully in order to see the things you want me to see. Amen.
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. 34 When it was time for harvest, he sent his servants to the tenant farmers to collect his fruit. 35 But the tenant farmers grabbed his servants. They beat some of them, and some of them they killed. Some of them they stoned to death.
36 “Again he sent other servants, more than the first group. They treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
38 “But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come on, let’s kill him and we’ll have his inheritance.’39 They grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
40 “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenant farmers?”
41 They said, “He will totally destroy those wicked farmers and rent the vineyard to other tenant farmers who will give him the fruit when it’s ready.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the scriptures, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?[a] 43 Therefore, I tell you that God’s kingdom will be taken away from you and will be given to a people who produce its fruit. 44 Whoever falls on this stone will be crushed. And the stone will crush the person it falls on.”
45 Now when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard the parable, they knew Jesus was talking about them. 46 They were trying to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, who thought he was a prophet.
Today’s readings are hardly the calm, peace-inspiring messages we typically associate with Advent; these are not words you read while curled up by the fire sipping hot chocolate with Christmas music playing softly in the background. Psalm 18 is David’s post-battle song of thanksgiving, full of vibrant and violent language, a kind of “We are the Champions” psalm. The verses from Amos are similarly filled with violent and terrifying images, and Peter’s letter talks about the destruction that will come on the day of the Lord. The reading from Matthew is the Parable of the Tenants, which is one of the bloodiest parables Jesus told.
So what are we to make of all this violence and bloodshed? How do we reconcile these readings with the gentle, loving messages of the Prince of Peace? Looking over these again, in each case the violence described in these passages is associated with some kind of dramatic change. Perhaps these words can remind us that not all change is easy or painless, even if that change is for the best. We can be inspired, not by the negative images in these readings, but by the idea of taking action to make a difference rather than just sitting by.
So let’s set aside our hot chocolate, get out of our cozy home, and start making positive changes in our troubled world!
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, help us to shake off the complacency and comfort with the status quo that can often set in while we are busy going about our daily routines. Give us strength to make the hard changes that are needed, whether in our own lives or in our communities. Amen.
Jesus responded by speaking again in parables: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding party for his son. 3 He sent his servants to call those invited to the wedding party. But they didn’t want to come. 4 Again he sent other servants and said to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Look, the meal is all prepared. I’ve butchered the oxen and the fattened cattle. Now everything’s ready. Come to the wedding party!” ’ 5 But they paid no attention and went away—some to their fields, others to their businesses. 6 The rest of them grabbed his servants, abused them, and killed them.
7 “The king was angry. He sent his soldiers to destroy those murderers and set their city on fire. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding party is prepared, but those who were invited weren’t worthy.9 Therefore, go to the roads on the edge of town and invite everyone you find to the wedding party.’
10 “Then those servants went to the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding party was full of guests. 11 Now when the king came in and saw the guests, he spotted a man who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes. 12 He said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ But he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to his servants, ‘Tie his hands and feet and throw him out into the farthest darkness. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.’
14 “Many people are invited, but few people are chosen.”
Hear this word—a funeral song—that I am lifting up against you, house of Israel:
2 Fallen, no more to rise, is virgin Israel, deserted on her land, with no one to raise her up.
3 The Lord God proclaims: The city that marched out one thousand people will have one hundred left, and the city that marched out one hundred will have ten left in the house of Israel. 4 The Lord proclaims to the house of Israel: Seek me and live. But don’t seek Bethel, don’t enter into Gilgal, or cross over to Beer-sheba; for Gilgal will go into exile, and Bethel will come to nothing. 6 Seek the Lord and live, or else God might rush like a fire against the house of Joseph.
The fire will burn up Bethel, with no one to put it out. Doom to you who turn justice into poison,
and throw righteousness to the ground! 8 The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night; who summons the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth— this one’s name is the Lord—9 who causes destruction to flash out against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress. 10 They hate the one who judges at the city gate, and they reject the one who speaks the truth. 11 Truly, because you crush the weak, and because you tax their grain, you have built houses of carved stone,
but you won’t live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you won’t drink their wine.
12 I know how many are your crimes, and how numerous are your sins—afflicting the righteous,
taking money on the side, turning away the poor who seek help. 13 Therefore, the one who is wise will keep silent in that time; it is an evil time. 14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of heavenly forces, will be with you just as you have said. 15 Hate evil, love good, and establish justice at the city gate. Perhaps the Lord God of heavenly forces will be gracious to what is left of Joseph. 16 Truly, the Lord proclaims, the God of heavenly forces, the Lord: Crying will be heard in all the squares. In all the streets they will say, “Oh no! Oh no!”
They will call upon the farmers to wail, and those skilled in mourning to lament. 17 In all the vineyards there will be bitter crying because I will pass through your midst, says the Lord.
Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James.
To those who are called, loved by God the Father and kept safe by Jesus Christ.
2 May you have more and more mercy, peace, and love.
3 Dear friends, I wanted very much to write to you concerning the salvation we share. Instead, I must write to urge you to fight for the faith delivered once and for all to God’s holy people. 4 Godless people have slipped in among you. They turn the grace of our God into unrestrained immorality and deny our only master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Judgment was passed against them a long time ago.
5 I want to remind you of something you already know very well. The Lord, who once saved a people out of Egypt, later destroyed those who didn’t maintain their faith. 6 I remind you too of the angels who didn’t keep their position of authority but deserted their own home. The Lord has kept them in eternal chains in the underworld until the judgment of the great day. 7 In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and neighboring towns practiced immoral sexual relations and pursued other sexual urges. By undergoing the punishment of eternal fire, they serve as a warning.
8 Yet, even knowing this, these dreamers in the same way pollute themselves, reject authority, and slander the angels. 9 The archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil about Moses’ body, did not dare charge him with slander. Instead, he said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10 But these people slander whatever they don’t understand. They are destroyed by what they know instinctively, as though they were irrational animals.
11 They are damned, for they follow in the footsteps of Cain. For profit they give themselves over to Balaam’s error. They are destroyed in the uprising of Korah. 12 These people are like jagged rocks just below the surface of the water waiting to snag you when they join your love feasts. They feast with you without reverence. They care only for themselves. They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; fruitless autumn trees, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom the darkness of the underworld is reserved forever.
14 Enoch, who lived seven generations after Adam, prophesied about these people when he said, “See, the Lord comes with his countless holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on everyone and to convict everyone about every ungodly deed they have committed in their ungodliness as well as all the harsh things that sinful ungodly people have said against him.”16 These are faultfinding grumblers, living according to their own desires. They speak arrogant words and they show partiality to people when they want a favor in return.
Reflection: As Christians we have a challenge before us during this Christmas season. We know the real reason for Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus, however, there are many things out in the world that want to draw our attention away from Christ. These things can be fun and enjoyable in the moment, but when we reflect on what is truly important during this Christmas season, we realize that God and Christ should be the focal point of our daily lives because God gives us hope for everlasting life which provides joy for much longer than any Christmas gift could. The readings mention that people all throughout history have strayed from God to live by their own desires, but were punished. We must be aware not to make the same mistake, but instead should focus on putting God first. As it says in Matthew, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” We want to be among those who are chosen because the kingdom of God is greater than the secular Christmas season.
Prayer: Dear Lord, Help us to stay focused on you during this busy time. We ask that you grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices. Amen.
Adam & Kristina Yeany
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; 19 as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. 20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? 21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 25 Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images* that you made for yourselves; 27therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus, says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.
17 But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18for they said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.’ 19It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. 20But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to* eternal life. 22And have mercy on some who are wavering; 23save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.* 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.
Reflection: Alas is right. It seems the prophet Amos, in speaking for God is ready to do us in. Darkness, not light. Not a good message. But, I imagine, if we continually fail to disobey; fail to repair and make amends, we will fall into the clutches of lions and bears and snakes. This season of watching and waiting, may we be ever mindful of why we celebrate Christmas. May our offerings be sincere as we stand in the presence of God our Savior Jesus Christ. What do we need to cast off that weights us down from giving abundantly to God?
Prayer: Lord of all truth and sincerity, sometimes we are led astray to make choices that are not secure in your glory, majesty, power and authority. Keep us ever mindful of your guiding presence in our lives. Help us, we pray, as we keep watch and prepare for the light of your great goodness and love to be born in us once again. Amen.
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ 61They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria, the notables of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel resorts! Cross over to Calneh, and see; from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better* than these kingdoms?
Or is your* territory greater than their* territory, 3 O you that put far away the evil day, and bring near a reign of violence? 4 Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; 5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; 6 who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away. 8 The Lord God has sworn by himself (says the Lord, the God of hosts): I abhor the pride of Jacob and hate his strongholds; and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it. 9 If ten people remain in one house, they shall die. 10And if a relative, one who burns the dead,* shall take up the body to bring it out of the house, and shall say to someone in the innermost parts of the house, ‘Is anyone else with you?’ the answer will come, ‘No.’ Then the relative* shall say, ‘Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord.’
11 See, the Lord commands, and the great house shall be shattered to bits, and the little house to pieces. 12 Do horses run on rocks? Does one plough the sea with oxen?* But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood—13 you who rejoice in Lo-debar,* who say, ‘Have we not by our own strength taken Karnaim* for ourselves?’ 14 Indeed, I am raising up against you a nation, O house of Israel, says the Lord, the God of hosts, and they shall oppress you from Leboamath to the Wadi Arabah.
2 Thessalonians 1:5-12
This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering.6For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you,7and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power every good resolve and work of faith, 12so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Reflection: “What then will this child become,” the neighbors of Elizabeth and John ponder in Luke’s gospel? As a parent I’ve asked that same question myself. Today, I give thanks to God for blessing our children who have become and are becoming all God calls them to be. John the Baptist’s mother and father are witnesses to God’s blessing upon John as he becomes the messenger for the coming of Christ our Lord, who comes to save. He’s off to a good start, being prepared and named by God to serve as a messenger for the good news of Christ our Savior. How are you being alert to God’s call?
The prophet Amos cautions God’s faithful not to be complacent with their secure situation with God. Will they be prepared to go on when they are disrupted and no longer secure in their homeland? We can ponder this same question today as Jerusalem once again restores itself as the capital of Israel. Much turmoil and consternation is in the air over this decision from the United States. How well prepared are the Judaic people of God in this change? Is justice turning to poison and righteousness into wormwood?
The apostle writes to the church of Thessalonia with judgmental warning for those intended to be worthy of God’s kingdom. There will be relief for the suffering and vengeance upon those who choose not to know the glory of God. How do we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ in our lives who surrounds us with his love, blessing us with his righteousness?
Prayer: Loving Lord, amaze us in our becoming more and more as you will have us be. Keep us not complacent. Free us from turmoil. Caution us in our readiness for your worthiness. Prepare our hearts and minds and souls to be your most faithful followers. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
23 The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection;* and they asked him a question, saying, 24‘Teacher, Moses said, “If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.” 25Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother.26The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. 27Last of all, the woman herself died. 28In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.’
29 Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. 30For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels* in heaven. 31And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32“I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.’ 33And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.
7This is what the Lord God showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings). 2When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, ‘O Lord God, forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!’ The Lord relented concerning this; ‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord. 4 This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord God was calling for a shower of fire,* and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5Then I said, ‘O Lord God, cease, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!’ The Lord relented concerning this; ‘This also shall not be,’ said the Lord God. 7 This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand. 8And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb-line.’ Then the Lord said, ‘See, I am setting a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’
1The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants* what must soon take place; he made* it known by sending his angel to his servant* John, 2who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near. 4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed* us from our sins by his blood, 6and made* us to be a kingdom, priests serving* his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen. 8 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Reflection: Years ago, while living in a hundred year old house, we tried unsuccessfully to hang wallpaper in one of the bedrooms. Try as we might, we couldn’t get the paper to hang straight. A hundred year old house has settled in its ways. Some walls are crooked and skewed. Finding a straight line is no easy task. But, with a plumb line dropped down one wall, we were able to set a straight course and hang the paper. Advent is a good time to remember that God is standing right beside us, ready to build us up to be all God intends us to be. We may, however, have gotten skewed, a little crooked along the way. Advent is the season of dropped plumb lines from God; to get us back up straight. Thanks be to God who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood, making us his kingdom!
Prayer: Dear Lord, to you be glory and dominion for ever and ever. This season of Advent, as we watch and wait for you, thank you for never passing us by, for loving us and freeing us from our sins. You are, the Almighty, the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come. Amen.
Reflection 2:Christmas is celebrated once a year, on December 25th. We decorate, gather with friends and family, dust of traditions, and make new ones. But, then, when the wrapping paper has been cleared away, the dishes washed, the guests gone home to resume the daily grind, we tend to put “Christmas” away on a shelf, until next year. But, that spirit of Christmas, that joy of Christ’s birth and all it means to us as Christians, should be cherished at all times, even when the tinsel and the mistletoe are not in evidence.
As Revelations tells us, God is all around us at all times: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from a classic Christmas tale: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Mathew goes on to tell us: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” We are meant to live and serve and pray and love and honor the birth of Christ and all that it signifies all the year round; and to remember; and to seek new ways to keep Christmas alive every day, through how we treat others, and with what we give to the world – gifts of time, care, concern, love, and generosity of spirit.
Prayer: Loving Lord, please help us to remember the lessons taught by Christ and Christmas. Help us to capture our seasonal joy and translate it into good works and kind feelings throughout the year, that all who encounter us may feel the glow of Christmas that we foster in our hearts. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Readings: Matthew 22:34-46; Amos 7:10-17; Psalm 26, 28; Revelation 1:9-16
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ 41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42‘What do you think of the Messiah?* Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ 43He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit* calls him Lord, saying, 44 “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’ ”? 45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ 46No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11For thus Amos has said, “Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.” ’ And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am* no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am* a herdsman, and a dresser of sycomore trees, 15and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” 16 ‘Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” 17 Therefore, thus says the Lord:
“Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parcelled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.” ’
Psalm 26 Judica me, Domine
1 Give judgment for me, O Lord, for I have lived with integrity; * I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered. 2 Test me, O Lord, and try me; * examine my heart and my mind. 3 For your love is before my eyes; * I have walked faithfully with you. 4 I have not sat with the worthless, * nor do I consort with the deceitful. 5 I have hated the company of evildoers; * I will not sit down with the wicked. 6 I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord, *that I may go in procession round your altar, 7 Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving *and recounting all your wonderful deeds. 8 Lord, I love the house in which you dwell *and the place where your glory abides. 9 Do not sweep me away with sinners, * nor my life with those who thirst for blood, 10 Whose hands are full of evil plots, * and their right hand full of bribes. 11 As for me, I will live with integrity; * redeem me, O Lord, and have pity on me. 12 My foot stands on level ground; * in the full assembly I will bless the Lord.
Psalm 28 Ad te, Domine
1 O Lord, I call to you; my Rock, do not be deaf to my cry; *lest, if you do not hear me, I become like those who go down to the Pit. 2 Hear the voice of my prayer when I cry out to you, * when I lift up my hands to your holy of holies. 3 Do not snatch me away with the wicked or with the evildoers, * who speak peaceably with their neighbors, while strife is in their hearts. 4 Repay them according to their deeds, *and according to the wickedness of their actions. 5 According to the work of their hands repay them, *and give them their just deserts. 6 They have no understanding of the Lord’s doings, nor of the works of his hands; * therefore he will break them down and not build them up. 7 Blessed is the Lord! *
for he has heard the voice of my prayer. 8 The Lord is my strength and my shield; * my heart trusts in him, and I have been helped; 9 Therefore my heart dances for joy, * and in my song will I praise him.
10 The Lord is the strength of his people, * a safe refuge for his anointed. 11 Save your people and bless your inheritance; * shepherd them and carry them for ever.
9 I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.* 10I was in the spirit* on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11saying, ‘Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.’
12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.
Reflection: Many of us have big jobs be it in or outside the home that take our time and attention all year. For me the outside and inside jobs ramp up quite a bit during advent. Finding the time to quietly wait and listen for the Lord is the key to real success in spiritual life. I am reminded through David’s consistent fellowship with the Lord that the most important thing I can do is to talk with God throughout my busy day. I am not thirsty for water from the facet, I am thirsty for the living water of my Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Dear Lord in this season of advent, I thank you for all the blessings you bestow on each glorious day. I thank you for the comfort that you give to all that seek you. I pray that myself and all those who believe in you live the most important commandments of loving you with our whole heart, soul and mind and love our neighbor as ourselves. Amen.
Advent Daily Devotional – December 13, 2017 – Day 11
Happy St. Lucy Day! Today is the day we celebrate the life of St Lucy of Syracuse, a well-known Christian martyr from the 4th century who dedicated her life and her virginity to Christ at an early age, asking that her family donate her dowry to the poor. Through a series of unfortunate and grizzly events (involving, as one might guess, a slighted suitor), she lost her sight and was martyred. She is the patron saint of the blind, recognized by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutheran, and Orthodox Churches. Celebrated close to the winter solstice in the midst of Advent, her special day is often regarded as a celebration of light.
Many of us are familiar with the celebration of St Lucia in Sweden, where a young girl, dressed in a white robe with a crown of lighted candles, goes about singing and sharing sweet treats know as St Lucy cakes. Sometimes the celebration includes pasta, palms and bundles of wheat. In other places she appears on December 12th with her donkey pulling a cart, distributing sweets to young children. She is honored in various ways throughout the world in a assortment of celebrations.
The reading I will focus on today is not from the traditional lectionary, but taken from the lectionary for St. Lucy Day. Other St Lucy Day readings include:
9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.*10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God
Prayer for St Lucy Day: Loving God, for the salvation of all you gave Jesus Christ as light to a world in darkness: Illumine us, with your daughter Lucy, with the light of Christ, that by the merits of his passion we may be led to eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In honor of St Lucy, may we have eyes to see the light of Christ, whose brightness looms on the near horizon. May we have the wisdom to accept him for who he is and go forth as children of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Think of St Lucy today and celebrate her message of light with a special sweet in the morning, or a pasta meal for lunch or dinner. Fear not, the Light will dawn, if we only allow it in!
Readings: Matthew 223:13-26; Amos 9:1-10; Psalm 37; Revelation 2:8-17
13 ‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.* 15Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell* as yourselves.
16 ‘Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.” 17You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? 18And you say, “Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.” 19How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 21and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it;22and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.
23 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
25 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup,*so that the outside also may become clean.
9I saw the Lord standing beside* the altar, and he said: Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, and shatter them on the heads of all the people;*and those who are left I will kill with the sword; not one of them shall flee away, not one of them shall escape. 2 Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search out and take them; and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the sea-serpent, and it shall bite them. 4 And though they go into captivity in front of their enemies, there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them; and I will fix my eyes on them for harm and not for good. 5 The Lord, God of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt; 6 who builds his upper chambers in the heavens, and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the surface of the earth—the Lord is his name. 7 Are you not like the Ethiopians* to me, O people of Israel? says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? 8 The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth —except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, says the Lord. 9 For lo, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the ground. 10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, ‘Evil shall not overtake or meet us.’
Psalm 37 Noli æmulari
1 Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
2 For they shall soon wither like the grass, * and like the green grass fade away.
3 Put your trust in the Lord and do good; * dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
4 Take delight in the Lord, *and he shall give you your heart’s desire.
5 Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him, *and he will bring it to pass.
6 He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *and your just dealing as the noonday.
7 Be still before the Lord *and wait patiently for him.
8 Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
9 Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
10 For evildoers shall be cut off, *but those who wait upon the Lord shall possess the land.
11 In a little while the wicked shall be no more; *you shall search out their place, but they will not be there.
12 But the lowly shall possess the land; *they will delight in abundance of peace.
13 The wicked plot against the righteous *and gnash at them with their teeth.
14 The Lord laughs at the wicked, *because he sees that their day will come.
15 The wicked draw their sword and bend their bow to strike down the poor and needy, *
to slaughter those who are upright in their ways.
16 Their sword shall go through their own heart, *and their bow shall be broken.
17 The little that the righteous has *is better than great riches of the wicked.
18 For the power of the wicked shall be broken, *but the Lord upholds the righteous.
8 ‘And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life: 9 ‘I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death. 12 ‘And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword:
13 ‘I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me* even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. 14But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling-block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practise fornication. 15So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.17Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.
Although the scriptures for today’s devotional are very different in many ways, there are some common threads that run through all of them. In all of these scriptures God is trying to lead us away from sin. Sometimes he does it by reminding us of how he will protect us against evil. Sometimes he conveys the message by detailing what his wrath looks like.
In Psalm 37:7 the psalmist calls on us to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” He goes on In the next line and asks us not to fret. In Matthew 23 13-26 we are served a cold platter of condemnation for hypocrisy. We see a Jesus who is angry, but in his righteousness he also reminds us ,”Don’t forget what is important! In Revelations 2: 8-17, despite the sobering image of what is to come, we are also told, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” In Amos 9:1-10, as in Matthew, we see a vision of a God that feels indignation when His children are not living up to his expectations. In Amos it says, “Not one will get away, none will escape. Though they dig down to the depths of the grave , from there my hand will take them. Though they climb up to the heavens, from there I will bring them down.”
When we put aside our modern ideas of what it means to be loving, and contemplate the different and slightly disturbing facets of God revealed through these scriptures there emerges a picture of Our Lord as a parent who loves hard and wants to protect us from ourselves. In Psalm 37 he wants us to trust him and know that he will not let us fall. He is the mother bear who will protect her cubs-the nurturer. In Matthew he is the dad who is furious when his children are not living out the values that he has raised them with- the disciplinarian. In Revelations, we see the parent who has to confront us with the sobering and harsh news about the pain that we will encounter in life, but we also see that encouragement. In Revelation we are reminded that our sin will lead to suffering but we are not alone- the comforter. The God of Amos is the parent who will battle with their child to make sure that they remain righteous. In order to save him, he may become the child’s enemy. God seems like an enemy here, but he is only trying to protect his people from evil.
Prayer: Lord God Almighty, give us the wisdom and open the eyes of our hearts to see and understand what it is that you want from us. Let your Holy Spirit within us be our guide. Help us to see when we are not living in your will and redirect us when you see us straying down a path of temptation. Give us the strength to be your hands and feet here on this earth. Heavenly Father protect us from ourselves so that we may never fall out of your grace. Father God thank you for loving us enough to warn us and Lord help us to live by faith and not by fear. In the name of your son Jesus Christ. Amen.
Readings: Psalm 126; Habakkuk 3:2-6; Philippians 3:12-16
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. 2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. 4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev. 5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. 6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
2 Lord, I have I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. 3 God came from Teman,the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth.
4 His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden. 5 Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. 6 He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed– but he marches on forever.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Advent is a season of preparation, and in today’s readings, Paul offers his thoughts on what that preparation might look like—although, to be sure, his words paint something of a paradox. We are, in one sense, unfinished—called to strive to be more and more Christ-like, yet in another sense, we are complete—secure in God’s love that has been freely offered to us all.
If we truly accept this offer – not simply acknowledge but deeply accept and internalize it – it changes us in a fundamental way. We are free. Not free from suffering or free from pain, but free from the hopelessness that suffering and pain generate in so many. Free to see – and then to be – how God moves in and through our world to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to mend the broken. Indeed, we are Christ’s body on this earth, and we therefore have the freedom and power to say and do the things that love – that God – would have us do for one another. The striving, then, is not characterized by desperate efforts to obtain something that might be lost; rather, it is characterized by our loving response to God’s love—by our acceptance of our role as Christ’s hands and feet. The bottom line, then, is that we are called not simply to wait idly for Christ to arrive; he arrives in and through us. Therefore, let’s prepare ourselves, and then let’s get to work!
Loving God, this season, 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
And 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
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Readings: Matthew 24:1-14; Haggai 2:1-9; Psalm 30, 32; Revelation 3:1-6
24As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ 4Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!”* and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines* and earthquakes in various places: 8all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs. 9 ‘Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10Then many will fall away,* and they will betray one another and hate one another.11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.13But anyone who endures to the end will be saved. 14And this good news* of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.
2In the second year of King Darius,1in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.6For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts. 8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 9The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.
Psalm 30 Exaltabo te, Domine
1 I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up *and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
2 O Lord my God, I cried out to you, *and you restored me to health.
3 You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; *you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
4 Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; *give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
5 For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, * his favor for a lifetime.
6 Weeping may spend the night, *but joy comes in the morning.
7 While I felt secure, I said,”I shall never be disturbed. * You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”
8 Then you hid your face, *and I was filled with fear.
9 I cried to you, O Lord; *I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
10 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
11 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; *O Lord, be my helper.”
12 You have turned my wailing into dancing; *you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
13 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.
Psalm 32 Beati quorum
1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *and whose sin is put away!
2 Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, *and in whose spirit there is no guile!
3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, * because of my groaning all day long.
4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; * my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *and did not conceal my guilt.
6 I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” *Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
8 You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; *you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
9 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *I will guide you with my eye.
10 Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; * who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.”
11 Great are the tribulations of the wicked; * but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
12 Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; *shout for joy, all who are true of heart.
3‘And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works; you have a name for being alive, but you are dead.2Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is at the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. 3Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 4Yet you have still a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. 6Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
“Beep! Beep!” went the oven timer. With glowing anticipation I went to pull out the cookies I had labored so long over for our Annual Neighborhood Christmas Cookie Swap. I had followed the very complicated recipe “to a T” – I just knew they’d be perfect! Much to my dismay not only were they burnt to crisps, they had spread out on the pan and morphed into one giant charbroiled cookie! It looked nothing like the picture of the expertly crafted cookie I had attempted to replicate from Pinterest. It was safe to say that I did not have a delectable treat to share with my neighbors; rather I had my latest “Pinterest fail”.
Like the cookies on Pinterest, the church in Sardis in the book of Revelation looked perfect on the outside, too, but the church was described as “dead” inside. They did everything they were “supposed” to do but were Christian in name only. They had compromised their beliefs in order to mingle with the Pagan culture surrounding them while simply going through the motions to keep up appearances.
Thanks to the rise of social media in our modern lives, it is easy to get caught up in making sure that our Christmas also looks picture perfect. We convince ourselves that unless we have the most Pinterest-worthy cookies, the most dazzling light display to post on Facebook, or the best Christmas card that our Christmas won’t have the appearance being “perfect”. But, like the church in Sardis, those pictures may look perfect but what matters cannot be seen — what is in our hearts. Psalm 30 reminds us that earthly perfection is uncertain and unreliable, but God is always faithful. So this Christmas season we need to turn off those devices and gadgets that skew our perceptions of what creates a “perfect” Christmas, and meditate on the joy within our hearts that our Savior was born to save the world. The joy in that will last much longer than a cookie anyway!
Please bless me with the bravery and freedom to shed the culture of perfection and to accept myself as you made me. Please bless me with clarity to recognize those snippets of time amongst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to joyfully reflect on the gift of your son, Jesus. Thank you for always being faithful when the world can be so unreliable. Thank you for always loving me, even when I do forget that I do not need to impress the world. And thank you for blessing us with a church family that is not Christian in appearance only, but one with heart. Amen.