Luke 1:1-4

            The season of Advent is almost upon us.  Advent is simply another word for “coming.”  During this liturgical season on the Christian Calendar, we rehearse the incarnation of Jesus, his coming to this earth as a baby.  Through this focus we anticipate Christ’s coming again in his Second Advent, at the end of the age.  As the secular world encroaches more and more into the sacred through a mere cultural assent to Christmas with its anticipation of gifts, food, and time off, the spiritual grounding of Advent is quite necessary for the Christian.
 
            It is appropriate, then, that today’s lectionary brings us to the beginning verses of Luke’s Gospel.  We are told that Luke set about the task of an historian, providing a first-hand account of Jesus Christ as well as researching primary sources to give a reliable and faithful narrative of the major redemptive events of Christ’s life and ministry.  The purpose of it all is to ground the believer in truth, and to orient the unbeliever into the vital components of God’s rescue mission of humanity.
 
            Let’s make it our goal to journey with Jesus in this next month by carefully and devotionally reading the daily lectionary so that we might be the recipients of God’s incredible story to us.  It would be helpful if you kept a journal of daily observations and thoughtful applications.  Yes, this takes the time of thought and reflection, but, then again, we are seeking to reverse the trend of the secular invading the sacred.  Who knows?  A fresh movement of the Spirit might stir up amongst us.
 

 

            Gracious God, thank you for neither abandoning nor obliterating humanity because of our terrible estrangement from you.  In this Advent season, lead us to Christ and save us from ourselves so that we might know the life that is truly life.  Amen.

Psalm 117

            God’s faithfulness never ends.  Let that statement from the psalmist sink in and ruminate on it for a bit.  What does it mean?  How does it work itself out?  Is God faithful to me?  As a pastor, I can tell you that one of the most difficult things that I see people encounter is wondering if God can really do things in their lives like he does in other people’s lives.  Sometimes we have all the faith in the world for other people – that God will forgive, heal, help, and show up in their lives – but when it comes to me personally, it becomes an entirely different thing.  We wonder if anything can really change.
 
            God is good for his promises.  He will accomplish all that he has said he will do.  It certainly might seem like he is taking his time and is terribly slow in moving on our behalf.  Yet, it shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.  God does not just work in other countries with mass conversions; he does not only grow his church in other geographical locales; and, he does not limit himself to establishing his kingdom in receptive areas.  God can and does work everywhere and will show up in your life and your church, just like he has been doing for ages in all places in all times.
 
            Perhaps the most appropriate response is to praise God for what he is going to do.  That is, don’t just wait for him to do something astounding.  Look for it and give thanks ahead of time for the incredible work of saving, healing, teaching, growing, and transforming that God will do in Christ through the power of his Holy Spirit.  It isn’t just for others; it is for you, my friend.  How will you trust him today?
 

 

            Faithful God, I praise you for what you will do in my life this season.  Thanks for the answers to prayer that will come.  I give you gratitude for the people you will deliver from sin, darkness, addiction, disease, and suffering and the new spirit you will give to me and many others in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Revelation 21:5-27

            Things will not always be this way.  Life will not always consist of heartache, suffering, and tears.  The world, as we now know it, will eventually pass away with its constant barrage of war, famine, hunger, sickness, misunderstanding, conflict, and pain.  There is a coming a day when Jesus will return and make everything new.  The vision of this next-to-last chapter of the Bible portrays a Lord who is in charge, and whose authority will, in the end, be seen for what it is.  Everything wrong will be made right; all that is crooked shall be made straight; and, the endless struggle to do what is right and just will prevail once and for all.
 
            Whenever we get caught in seemingly endless cycles of addiction, insecurity, and fear; whenever we find ourselves having to endure yet another day of undeserved backtalk; and, whenever we see that perseverance has become our abiding companion; it is in such times, like the original recipients of John’s vision of the final apocalypse, that we are to be strengthened and encouraged with the truth that Jesus is Lord.  Christ reigns as Supreme, and his rule will be shown and revealed to all nations.  In our Lord’s benevolent kingdom, everyone who is thirsty for justice will receive from a life-giving fountain; and, all who hunger for righteousness will be filled and satisfied.
 
            But until that time comes, we are to hold onto the hope that Jesus shall return to judge the living and the dead.  For the righteous this is truly good news, but for the wicked, this is anything but.  Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be in the celestial city.  So, let’s put on words and deeds that are appropriate for the light of Christ our King, and eschew the works of darkness, utilizing all the tools of faith, hope, and love given to us by our Sovereign Lord.
 

 

            Lord Jesus, you are making everything new.  You are the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  All things hinge on your gracious rule in this world.  Help me to so embrace your kingdom ethics that every word and each deed is done consistent with your divine justice and mercy through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Luke 18:15-17


            Current Western society has experienced a juvenilization of culture in recent decades, and perhaps the past two hundred years, in ways that would seem strange to ancient people.  In the biblical world, children had no rights.  Life did not revolve around them whatsoever.  They were looked upon more as potential adults, and were expected to conform to family, synagogue, and society.  So, it was quite understandable, within such a society, that Christ’s disciples were perturbed with people bringing their children to Jesus – this was adult business, and not for kids.
             But Jesus would have none of this from his disciples, and he said something which was a jaw-dropping shock to them:  “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”  The upwardly-minded disciples did not have this as their strategy for taking over the world.  It was not even close to being on their radar because the worldly tools of power, influence, and position were their ambition.
             Citizens of the kingdom of God, in-other-words, enter through sheer humility and remain through complete dependence.  Like little children, they have nothing to offer and no rights to claim.  It would all have to be given to them.  Ah, now we are not far from the kingdom!  A life of faith and entrance to God’s kingdom is a gift of grace.  We cannot enter through superior skill or intelligence and not by hard work or savvy insight to the system.  None of that stuff neither impresses nor influences Jesus in the slightest.  Rather, the subjects of his kingdom need the king, and the realm of King Jesus is wherever the will of God is done.  And the will of God cannot be done apart from the spiritual virtues of humility and trust.  Will you become a little child and embrace a life of humility and dependence?
             King Jesus, I forsake all pride and selfish ambition and come to you with all the humility I can muster.  I need you for all things, and trust in your grace and compassion to gently and mercifully guide me into a life of faith that pleases you and blesses the world.  Amen.

1 Peter 1:3-9

            Christians ought to expect suffering.  Yes, you heard that one right.  In our litigious age of claiming rights and avoiding pain at all cost, the biblical teaching can seem like some antiquated throw-back to an age we can’t relate to very well.  But Peter’s letter to the churches was all about facing and dealing with suffering.  Unfair treatment was happening, and was going to happen.  Peter would think it weird if believers were not undergoing suffering of some type.
 
            But it is not random meaningless suffering.  It is a testing of faith.  “Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire.  And these trials will prove that your faith is worth more than gold.”  Because faith is much like a muscle, it needs to be flexed, used, and exercised so that it develops and grows strong.  An absence of adversity will only lead to faith-muscle atrophy.  So, how do we endure such adverse situations of suffering?
 
            Christians deal in the currency of hope.  God has “given us new life and a hope that lives on.  God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear.”  The path forward through suffering is to know that we are being trained and developed for eternal life with Jesus.  We learn to put our hope in things which are permanent, instead of putting too much investment and stock into the temporary.  Our strengthened faith will not decay, will never be ruined, and shall not disappear.  It only makes solid spiritual sense to develop a robust life of faith in this life, since eternity awaits us.
 

 

            I praise you God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  You are so good by raising Jesus from death and giving us a permanent inheritance which can never perish, spoil, or fade.  I entrust myself to you and seek spiritual growth by means of the trials you bring into my life.  May they be used for your glory.  Amen.

Luke 1:68-79

            When I was in graduate school at a public university some years back, I was describing for my class a New Testament view of Jesus and the church’s consistent historic teaching about him.  One of my classmates spoke up and said to me, “But you don’t really believe all that, right?”  Well, actually, I really do believe all the things concerning Jesus accounted for us in the Gospels.  Why?  Because I have found the historicity of Jesus from an objective ground of evidence as reliable, as well as a subjective witness within that resonates as true.  Christians call this witness within the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
 
            Old Zechariah experienced this firsthand.  The Holy Spirit came upon him and he uttered some objective prophecy over his newborn son, John that rang exultingly true within his subjective hopeful soul:  “You, my son, will go ahead of the Lord to get everything ready for him.  You will tell his people that they can be saved when their sins are forgiven.  God’s love and kindness will shine upon us like the sun that rises in the sky.  On us who live in the dark shadow of death this light will shine to guide us into a life of peace.”
 
            Indeed, this is exactly what John the Baptist did in his ministry.  When the Spirit resonates with us and testifies to the truth of Jesus, we can find genuine deliverance from sin, death, and hell, as well as have the confidence to proclaim the name of Jesus as Savior and King.  The objective and subjective aspects are both needed:  objective evidence alone is really nothing more than facts; subjective witness alone without evidence is just gut feeling; but the objective and subjective together presents the person and work of Christ with truth and grace, fact and flavor, mind and heart, in a compelling blend of Christianity for all people.
 

 

            Praise to you, Almighty God, because you have come to save your people.  Thank you for delivering me through your Son, the Lord Jesus, and giving me your Holy Spirit.  May the confidence I have with faith, hope, and love be used for your glory and honor.  Amen.

Matthew 23:37-24:14

            Hear what the Lord Jesus said as he entered Jerusalem and faced the ignominy of the cross:  “Jerusalem! Jerusalem!  Your people have killed the prophets and have stoned the messengers who were sent to you.  I have often wanted to gather your people, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.  But you wouldn’t let me” (CEV).  Jesus went on to predict his death and what would be coming with stubborn Jerusalem’s refusal to see the hand of God.  To understand Christ’s cry of love for the city, one must be reminded that this came off a scathing rebuke of a distorted religion that was in vogue at the time.  Jesus saw the current state of worship, found it to be terribly wanting, and saw ahead to its ultimate demise.
 
            Jesus did not just pronounce woe and walk away disgusted.  No, instead, our Lord broke into a tear-filled, heart-wrenching love song for his wayward people.  Jesus blasted the establishment because of his deep concern for all people to know the true worship of God and find their ultimate purpose and meaning in him.
 
            Any religious fool can rant-on about the ills of the world, ungodly persons, and defective institutions.  But it takes a person with the heart of Jesus to weep over it all and follow him into suffering on behalf of others so that they might come to the peaceable kingdom of righteousness.  If we are not completely undone over the sin of the world, we are in no position to rant about anything because grace and mercy is the currency of God’s economy.  Let us repent like we mean it, pray as if our lives depended on it, and tell others of Jesus like there is no tomorrow.
 

 

            Loving Lord Jesus, oh, let me have your zeal for God’s house and your heart for lost people!  Change my heart, O God, and let it reflect your grace and truth in everything I say and do; through Christ my Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign forever and ever.  Amen.